Children's fascination with television has been a concern for researchers, parents, educators and others dealing with children's well-being ever since it was first introduced. The public has been concerned with the impact of media violence and television's negative effects on reading skills. There have also been worries about the television's impact on children's physical condition. It has also been linked to obesity in children and has been compared to a drug, while some have claimed excessive viewing makes children stupid.
Television was introduced in the United States and Western Europe after World War II (1939-1945). It gradually became the medium most used by children, replacing the radio. Children's viewing time has increased as a result of the rise in the number of national channels and the higher output of globally distributed commercial programs for children, including animated cartoons and action adventure series', after the deregulation of the television market.
At first, during a prolonged "direct effects era" researchers viewed the reception of television in a linear and one-dimensional manner. Later, they realised that children's reactions to the same programs was not uniform. Instead, variables such as age, gender, perceptions, predispositions, social environment, parental influence and past experience, also played a role. However, the "direct effects model," has remained influential in the public debate about children and television despite the results of years of research.
Research in more realistic settings showed the effects of exposure to television were weaker, with long-term effects, in particular, very weak or even nonexistent. Long-term research in both Europe and the United States concluded that television violence was only one of the factors behind the violent and aggressive behavior of young people. However, researchers also stress that the frequent occurrence of violence on television reinforces the idea that violence is a solution of problems. The production of violent programming and its worldwide dissemination has increased thanks to the globalization of the television market.
At the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s it was believed that television could be used to promote learning and social behavior. It was used for preschool learning and compensatory education in the United States, Europe and in some Third World countries. Producers, researchers and educators began investigating the possibility of using the medium to reach out to underprivileged groups in society. Media education has been implemented slowly and those defending established school ideas opposed the process.
During the 1950s it was discussed whether children should participate in programs on television or not. In England, there was legislation prohibiting children's participation or appearance as actors and mainly adults performed in children's programs along with various kinds of puppets. By contrast, in Sweden children were welcomed to participate in television programs from the beginning of broadcasting. Eventually, it became more common for children to be seen and heard in children's programs. However, the image of the child tends to be highly related to cultural patterns and children remain underrepresented in the United States and Europe in the output as a whole.
Television can be entertaining as well as educational and can open up new worlds for children, allowing them to travel around the world, learn about different cultures and be exposed to ideas they may never encounter in their own community. Shows with pro-social messages can influence children's behavior in a positive way, while programs with positive role models can help viewers make positive changes in their lifestyle. However, television can also take away from the time children spend on healthy activities such as playing outside with friends, eating dinner with the family and reading. Children can also spend more time watching television than participating in sports, music, art and other activities which require practice to become skilled at.
Children who spend more time watching television spend less time interacting with members of their family. Watching too much television can contribute to sleep problems, poor grades, behavior problems and risky behavior. Advertisers target children, who watch many adverts for unhealthy snack foods and drinks among others. In shows and movies on television children also see their favorite characters smoking, drinking, getting engaged in sexual situations and other risky behaviors, which can affect their own behavior.
In the early days television in Europe and the United States was a medium which brought the family together in the living room. However, it has become a more privatized and individual activity, with many children having their own television set in their bedrooms.