Wholeness Healing Today

Television Changes Brain Development

Television, computer games, and video games are all part of our daily lives. Not only do most people have at least one T.V., they have them in bedrooms, kitchens, family rooms, and exercise rooms. It isn’t unusual for children to have televisions in their own bedrooms. Then we add the portable DVD’s that children can carry in their backpacks or turn on in the family vehicle. What happened to the days when getting your children in the car with you was the best way to capture them for a little time together? One has to wonder how television has impacted the family interaction and time together.

But let’s go one step further. What happens to the brain and its development? We are only beginning to understand the impact of computers, TV’s and video games on our developing children. Our children are now watching TV at a very young age and at critical brain development time. Bruce Perry, a well known trauma psychiatrist, states that relationships and interactions are the springboard to brain development. It is through our interactions that our brain synapses connect and develop. In fact, it is because of this that neglect is considered much more harmful to children than abuse. Neglect, a lack of interaction and care for a child, prevents children from fully developing their brains, which impacts their ability to function in the world, sometimes permanently.

Interactions, family conversations, storytelling, and play are ways to help children form images in their mind. This helps the child connect those neurons that will be needed for problem-solving or creative projects which are considered higher thought processes.

So what happens to the brain development when children are spending hours in front of the T.V. rather than playing games, developing their imaginations, talking to their family, reading, or out playing in the sunshine on their bikes? Television causes neurological damage and attention problems.

Television causes neurological changes in the brain. A study was conducted to watch children’s brain waves while they watched T.V. While the child watched T.V EEG’s were hooked up to read the brain waves (Hill and Castro 2002). The tests showed that the brain waves slowed down, moving toward the slower less-aroused brain waves. This is the same state that a brain is in when it has attention deficit disorder. When a brain functions in a lower arousal state, it cannot access higher processes such as reasoning, logic, and complex thought. The lower frequency puts a person into a hypnotic state. How often have you seen children (or maybe even your spouse) sitting in front of the T.V. and so involved they actually don’t hear you talking even though you are right there almost in front of them? They are in “dazed staring”, also called “ocular lock”.

Television puts the brain into this state. This affects the ability to be attentive. When the brain is in this low arousal state, it cannot access the areas of optimal functioning to carry out tasks. So what happens to the brain when small children begin their lives watching hours of television?

One study found that children who watch six hours or more of T.V. a day are more likely to have a lower IQ than children who watch 2 hours or less (Moody 1980). Another study suggested that television induces passivity, may be hypnotic, and possibly neurologically addictive. There has been some evidence that attention deficit disorders increase with more time spent in T.V. watching. The more a child watches television, the less apt he is to read, be motivated to do his homework, sustain attention, and often will have lower grades and behavioral problems. Perhaps this is why we are seeing such a huge proportion of our population being diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. Television may actually be teaching and training young children’s brains to lock in these low-frequency patterns in an ADD state (Emery & Emery, 1975).

But a bigger concern is how television is impacting the brain, causing neurological damage. Consider how growing up in the past was as compared to now. The radio was the form of entertainment and storytelling. And with that storytelling, our minds were alive with activity as we saw the story in our mind. This stimulated clusters of neurons to connect with other clusters, forming a network of single brain cells communicating with other single cells or clusters of brain cells. This is complex thought, which allows our brain to develop and connect those neurons that are there to be used. Eventually, if the neurons are not connected, they will be pruned away (Castro & Hill, 2002).

Television is a low-level activity, requiring very little thought, with very few neurons needed to be activated to carry out the function. Young children are not learning how to make the images in their mind. Television makes the brainwork too easy, therefore preventing full brain development.. And because of this, we get lulled into a hypnotic state which is a low level function and can be handled by a single field of neurons. And because watching is so easy – requiring so little energy and no response – it becomes addictive.

The television does it all for you, giving you the stimulus and the response. If a child doesn’t have to think, problem/solve, or practice cause and effect, the brain becomes lazy and does not “know how” to activate itself when homework needs to be done, questions responded to, or decisions made. The pathways are not developed that allow the child the “know-how” to interact appropriately with the environment. This is a serious deficit for children and will have a lifelong impact in their ability to function optimally in their world.

So for your children’s neurological development, consider shutting off the T.V. and giving them time to play.

Make-believe play is similar to listening to stories as the child becomes involved in playing out externally what is going on internally in his mind, activating those neurons and requiring a higher level of functioning in the brain.

Make sure you have family meals together without the television on so that you can talk about their day, interact, laugh, problem solve, and tell stories. Parents, tell your children stories about your history. This allows the brain to fire, create those necessary pathways, and develop closeness with your children, which are all necessary for the optimal brain development.

Castro, E & Hill, R. (2002). Getting Rid of Ritalin, Virginia: Hampton Roads Publishing Company.

Emery, R. & Emery, M. (1975) A Choice of the Futures: To Enlighten or Inform? Canberra: Center for Continuing Education, Australian National University.

Moody, K. (1980) Growing up on Television, New York: Times Books.

Tags: ,


  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


Subscribe today

Sign up to receive the latest mental health tips and inspiration

If you have a question, click below and receive prompt confidential help

Ask A Question