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Will Watching TV Make You Mean?
This and Other Risks of Too Much Television

Stressful and intense are two words that arguably describe just about everyone's life at one time or another. We all have demands and obligations that push and pull us in a million different directions -- and we choose to alleviate this stress in a variety of ways.

Americans watch about 250 billion hours of TV every year.

Some choose to jog, others take yoga class, but by far the most popular way to unwind at the end of the day is watching television. While TV may be a great stress reliever, offering you hundreds of channels of viewing options ranging from Heidi Klum's glamorous runway to the murky waters of Shark Week as well as a shared cultural milieu, study after study has shown that there are numerous negative effects on the lives of those who watch too much of it.

Shocking Television Stats

While television may have been a luxury when first invented over fifty years ago, today approximately 99 percent of American households have at least one TV. The average household has about 2.24 TV sets and 66 percent of all households have three or more!

As the number of televisions in the United States has grown so has the number of viewing hours. According to A.C. Neilson Co., the agency that monitors television ratings, the average television is on between 6-7 hours a day in America's homes, adding up to about 250 billion hours of cartoons, sitcoms, and CSI watched in the United States every year. This adds up to about 28 hours per week or two months of nonstop TV watching per year.

These stats are not just limited to adults. The apple doesn't fall far from the viewing tree when it comes to the television habits of American children. Over the course of 4,000 studies it was shown that American children watch approximately 1,680 minutes (that's 28 hours!) of television per week.

Meanwhile, 70 percent of daycare centers have the TV on during a typical day and, when asked, 54 percent of 4-6-year-olds said they would rather watch Dora and Diego on TV than spend time with their fathers. What is really alarming is that the average American child spends about 1,500 hours watching TV a year, nearly double the amount of time they spend in school, which is 900 hours.

A Bad Influence

As alarming as these statistics sound, what is equally frightening are the numerous negative effects that the sheer amount of television being watched has on America's minds, bodies, families, and wallets. This includes:

  • Increased obesity

  • Less quality family time

  • More debt

  • Increase in violent behavior

You might ask, " How do we know this for certain? Is television directly responsible for the rise in violence in society or the obesity epidemic in America?" Looking at the studies, all signs point to yes -- or at least suggest it's playing a major role.

The more television kids watch, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese, studies show.

Television and Obesity

There have been many studies that link television watching to the obesity epidemic, primarily childhood obesity. While it is recommended that children only watch up to two hours of TV a day, the average child in the United States watches about three.

In a study conducted by University College London, researchers found that for each additional hour over the two-hour limit that 5-year-olds spent watching TV, their risk of obesity by the time they reached age 30 increased by 7 percent.

Another study conducted by John Hopkins University researchers, which compared the viewing habits of over 4,063 children between 8 and 16 years-old, found that the more television watched by children, primarily girls and minorities, the more likely they were to be overweight or obese.

A Society of Mean Girls

It has been shown that too much TV watching causes us to not only gain weight and spend too much, but it makes people meaner too. It is no secret that television violence has increased over the years. Gone are the slapstick days of I Love Lucy and in their place are the shootings and crime scenes of Law and Order and CSI.

In fact a recent study conducted by the Television Violence Monitoring Project concluded that as many as 61 percent of programming contained some sort of violence, with 75 percent of those scenes showing no immediate punishment or consequences for the violence -- and involving humor directed at the violence or used by the characters directly involved in it.

While it is bad enough that this violence on television is witnessed by adults, what is most disturbing is the amount of violence witnessed by children, who are impressionable and are not yet able to differentiate what they see on TV from what happens in reality.

It has been revealed that by the time the average child leaves elementary school, they have witnessed approximately 8,000 acts of violence on television. By the time they reach 18 that number increases to 200,000.

All this viewing may translate to real-life aggression. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association that followed 329 youngsters between the ages of 6 and 10 over 15 years revealed that children who watched violence on TV were more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior as adults.

The study reveals that men who watched TV violence as children were more likely to:

  • Push, grab, or shove their spouse

  • Be convicted of a violent crime

  • Respond to conflict with violence

  • Be charged with moving traffic violations

Further, women who watched violence on TV as little girls were more likely to:

  • Throw things at their spouses

  • Respond to perceived insults with physical aggression

  • Commit some type of criminal act

  • Commit some type of traffic violation

All the aggression on TV has also been shown to make us a ruder society. A study conducted by BYU professors tested the impacts clips from the films Mean Girls and Kill Bill had on 53 British college-age women. It was found that the women who watched the clips reacted aggressively to a researcher who was intentionally rude to them and gave lower scores than the control group on an evaluation form in regard to whether or not that researcher should be fired.

Getting Unplugged

In response to this overwhelming evidence, television executives have not only toned down the violence in their programs but have implemented a ratings system so parents can be proactive about what their children watch. Parents have also become more aware of the importance of getting their children to be more active and limiting their television viewing. Television will likely always be a part of American life, but as people are becoming more aware of the ill effects of too much of this particular "good thing," more and more TV sets are being turned off, for the better.

Recommended Reading

Are You Getting Enough Fresh Air? Important Insights You Need to Know

Parents Don't Even Recognize Their Children are Obese

Sources Television & Health

American Psychological Association March 9, 2003

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