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Adverse Effects of Television & Commercials

​Much of the original research on the adverse effects of media exposure for children and adolescents focuses on television use. Commercial television gives a picture of the broader world that may shape young people’s norms. Advertising that highlights the pleasure of drinking beer and eating calorically dense foods without references to moderation or potential risks is designed to encourage their consumption.

Important Information for Parents on the Adverse Effects of Media Exposure on Children:

  • On commercial primetime television, 75% of shows contain sexual references or content, but only 10% mention the need for contraception or sexually transmitted infection protection. Television shows and commercials that mention or advocate condom use or birth control are rarely seen on commercial networks.
  • Television aimed at young audiences can contain more violence than adult television, with one-fourth of violent interactions featuring guns. Violence on children’s shows is frequently portrayed as humorous or as an acceptable solution to a complex problem. The notion of justified violence may reinforce aggressive behavior and desensitize children and adolescents to violence and its consequences.
  • American children and adolescents view 2,000 beer commercials per year. Most of the commercials suggest that drinking alcohol is normative and that people who do so are successful, happy, and sexy.
    • For every antidrug public service announcement (PSA) on television, there are an estimated 25 to 50 beer commercials!
    • Most PSAs focus on marijuana, cocaine, inhalants, or heroin use, not alcohol use—the leading substance used by American teenagers today, and a key factor in many adolescent deaths.
  • Numerous studies demonstrate a link between the amount of television viewed and the prevalence of being overweight among children. The mechanisms remain unclear. Television viewing may displace more active activities, expose children and adolescents to unhealthy food choices, alter eating habits, or interfere with sleep. The average child or adolescent sees between 4,400 and 7,600 food advertisements per year on television, most of which are for snacks, fast food, and sugared cereals.
  • Risks associated with television viewing increase with unsupervised screen time (eg, when a child or adolescent is permitted to have a television or Internet connection in his or her bedroom). On the other hand, parents of teenagers can improve communication with their children and adolescents by watching television together, discussing content, and substituting ongoing “little” discussions about sex, violence, and alcohol for “the big talk” about such matters. Not only can viewing challenging material together provide “teachable moments” that are less awkward, but some studies have shown that, as with other family activities, families who watch TV or play video games together have greater connectedness.
  • Recommendations to reduce unsupervised screen time will become increasingly difficult as more adolescents view television on mobile devices.
    • The Pew Charitable Fund 2009 Survey found that 79% of adolescents nationally owned an iPod or MP3 player, 75% owned a cell phone, and 69% owned a desktop or laptop computer. The changing trends in usage and ease of mobility of many of these devices challenges researchers, educators, and parents to explore how to best help adolescents benefit from increased access to media while minimizing its associated risks. See How to Make a Family Media Use Plan.
Edited by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP, FSAHM and Sara B. Kinsman, MD, PhD
Last Updated
Reaching Teens: Strength-based Communication Strategies to Build Resilience and Support Healthy Adolescent Development (Copyright © 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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