When media comes between parents and children, there's one assured effect: We have no way of knowing how our children are feeling. If we don't see when something's making them anxious or upset, we can't intervene. Though entertainment rarely takes the place of all social interaction, it's important to spend time with our children, interacting directly and with the TV off, as part of the daily routine.
Then there's the usual question of our children's health: Obesity, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other disorders have been linked to excessive media consumption. In fact, some controversial research suggests that TV viewing may cause underlying tendencies toward autism to surface [source: Waldman et al]. Sex on TV is a concern, too. Even many shows geared toward kids can have sexual themes, making sex seem like no big deal, and some have blamed shows about teenage pregnancy for leading to real-life teen pregnancies.
As far as exposure to violence, the research can still be pretty scary. It's estimated that an average child will have witnessed at least 13,000 murders by the age of 16 [source: Wilson]. Of course, fairy tale and fantasy violence can be just as gory as war films or more troubling entertainment, so it's important to be sure that kids can discern the difference between stories and reality. (Hint: They can.)
And what about fear? In one study of college students, 90 percent were able to give details on a movie or TV show that had terrified them as children, and a full 26 percent claimed "residual anxiety" even as adults. Thirty-six percent reported avoiding real-life situations similar to the fictional events. In this study, the students also demonstrated greater and longer-lasting effects the younger they were when exposed to the frightening material [source: Wilson].
Violence on television has been linked to aggression and slowed moral development in some children, but again, these findings are criticized as forgetting to take other household and emotional factors into consideration. In fact, one study showed that television violence only increased aggressive behaviors in children who had already shown such problems [source: Wilson]. In any case, it's clear that a web of circumstances contributes to larger issues: Blaming the television for health or behavioral problems is oversimplifying, which is no help to kids.
So what steps should we take? And is there any good news about TV?