hand pointing tv remote at tv in background

What do parents need to know about TV, Streaming Videos, and Movies?

Television shows, streaming videos, and movies are popular with youth and there are many different ways to watch, including:

  • On a television set, including flat screens and those that are enabled with 3D capabilities
  • Through a digital device, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, video game consoles, and even some eReaders allow users to download and stream movie, TV, and online video content
  • At a movie theater

Where can my child/teen watch videos online?

Children, teens, and young adults spend a significant amount of time watching on-demand videos. Video services that stream traditional television and film content that are popular as of 2019 include Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Amazon Prime Video, Sony Playstation Vue, YouTube TV, and Sling TV. Your child or teen may also watch other types of videos on YouTube, Vimeo, or other video hosting sites. Sites like Twitch, Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and Instagram Live offer livestreaming services, in which content is delivered in real time as it happens. Watching livestreams is a popular activity for youth, but given the real time nature of livestreaming, children and teens may be exposed to inappropriate content.

What is binge-watching?

Watching many episodes, or even all episodes, of a TV show one after another is considered binge-watching. When children and teens spend all day binge-watching a series, they are displacing (taking the place of) other activities, such as physical activity and social interactions. Some youth may be binge-watching as a way to escape reality, and they may regret spending so much time watching TV after the fact.

What do I need to know about video services aimed at kids?

While some online and streaming videos may be on platforms that have “Kids” or “Family” categories, details about their content are largely unknown, and it can be difficult to determine how viewing will affect your child. Additionally, some videos included in these services may not be suitable for children. Before allowing your child to watch TV, videos, or movies on any service or platform, get to know the risks, benefits and how you can help them use and consume this content healthfully.

What should I know about TV and movie ratings?

Most mainstream movies and some traditional television shows have ratings set by outside organizations, such as the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). Sometimes the broadcasters themselves determine ratings, which are then reviewed by the TV content rating system under the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) that are meant to indicate the audience for which the content is appropriate. While these ratings can be helpful, it is always best to read reviews of a show or movie, or watch it yourself, in order to determine if it is suitable for your child.

Risks

During 50+ years of research on the effects of watching television and movies, researchers have discovered a number of risks. Although streaming services and short-form video platforms are relatively new, researchers are studying how content and the time spent watching have the potential to carry negative physical and mental health risks. These risks include:

  • Violence: Research has shown that viewing violent media can lead children to copy this violence, or even become desensitized or anxious watching violent media.
  • Obesity: Many parents are concerned that watching too much television will lead to children becoming overweight. Research suggests weight gain is due to several factors: watching television is a sedentary activity, children tend to eat more while they watch TV, and the foods that are advertised to children are usually unhealthy.
  • Substance Use: Alcohol and drugs are often glamorized, and free of consequence in TV, videos, and movies, which can lead children and teens to believe that substance use is common and even normal.
  • Smoking: Many research studies have shown that seeing smoking in movies more than doubles the risk that a young person will start using tobacco products. When presented with scientific research, the US Surgeon General concluded that that there is a causal relationship between young people seeing smoking in movies and starting to use tobacco products themselves.
  • Disturbing Content: Exposure to disturbing content, or content that may frighten or confuse youth can lead to the development of long-lasting fears.
  • Advertising: Ads are everywhere, whether products are being promoted slyly as part of a movie set or more blatantly in a TV or streaming commercial break. Children under 6 haven’t yet developed the cognitive (brain) ability to understand that ads are meant to persuade them to buy something, so they will likely believe the commercials they see. Older children and teens are also persuaded by ads, which can lead to the risk of them wanting unhealthy products such as junk food and alcohol.
  • Time Spent: It can be easy to lose track of time watching movies, TV shows and videos, especially when some platforms are designed to easily allow viewers to keep watching. Research shows that time spent with media can negatively affect children’s health and development (see above) and can also take away from doing other beneficial activities such as spending time outdoors or playing with friends.

Benefits

Television shows, videos and movies can be powerful teachers. They can expose children to new cultures, ideas, and places. They can tell stories, motivate people to act, and educate the public. Despite the potential for risks associated with television watching, research has revealed a number of benefits – depending on the content. These benefits include:

  • Vocabulary: Children can improve their vocabulary and early language skills by watching age-appropriate educational programs.
  • Prosocial behavior: Children can learn prosocial skills like sharing, problem-solving, and sensitivity by watching programs like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street.
  • Health: Media education campaigns about the effects of smoking, alcohol, drugs, and unprotected sex are often successful because they reach a large number of youth through television and movies.
  • Learning: Children and teens can learn a lot from well-crafted videos made by their peers. Children and teens not only participate in informal learning, but can also create videos sharing their knowledge, skills, and interests for others to learn from.

Healthy Use

To help your child watch TV, videos, and movies television and movies healthfully, we recommend the following tips:

  • Balance activities: It is easy to binge watch and lose track of time. Help your child make the most of their time by helping them plan out the activities they need to do (things like sleep, school, homework, physical activity a family meal) and the things they want to do, such as watch a favorite video or movie. This can help them understand how much time they need for the necessary things, and make thoughtful choices about what they want to watch during their available time.
  • Do your homework.
    Remember, the content of what your kids watch affects how they think about and understand the world. Learn more about the story, actions, and characters in a show before you allow your children to watch it. If you don’t have time to check out the videos first, co-view content with your child so that you can talk to them about what they see.
  • Keep TVs out of your children’s bedrooms
    Studies have shown that children with TVs in their bedrooms tend to eat more unhealthy food and exercise less, and may have a direct risk of being overweight. Additionally, as youth watch video content on other platforms such as computers, tablets, and mobile devices, they still are at risk; studies have shown that children with electronic media in their bedrooms are more likely to have sleep problems.
  • Watch TV and movies with your children.
    Watching TV with your children offers a chance to share ideas and talk with them about content. Educational television programs may be beneficial to children, but be aware that many have not been researched to verify these claims. If your children watch educational television make sure programs are developmentally appropriate and that they do not involve violence. You may also want to watch the show with your kids to see how much they are learning and help reinforce the lessons.
  • Use media ratings to help make decisions.
    Some, movies and TV shows are rated according to age and often have descriptions of content as well. Streaming services and video platforms may also have sections of content labeled as being for “kids” or for “families.” Use the labels, and other outside resources, such as Common Sense Media as a guide when you make decisions about what your children are allowed to watch. Remember, you know your child best, so keep in mind your child’s preferences and where they are developmentally when choosing, or helping them think about the content they watch.
  • Be a media role model.
    Use the kinds and amounts of media you’d want your children to use and they will follow your example.
  • Encourage social and extracurricular activities.
    The amount of time that children use media is often determined by the amount of down time that they have at their home. If you think your child is spending too much time watching TV or videos, find other fun activities for them to do.

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