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TV or the Internet, which is Worse for my Child?

By: Charlotte Fereday - Updated: 27 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Tv Internet Child Violence Games

TV and the Internet are sometimes portrayed as the twin evils that will ruin our children’s lives. But are they really comparable? TV is highly regulated with content that costs millions to make and broadcast. The internet is a free for all with content posted by anyone with something to say. So which is worse for your child?


The key to ‘safe’ TV viewing or internet use is to choose appropriate content. Terrestrial TV has a watershed before which all the content has to conform to certain rigorous standards for language, nudity, violence or other adult content. Some digital and satellite channels screen exclusively adult content but these are usually subscription only services and easily blocked.

Internet content can be filtered to screen out inappropriate content but even content designed for kids might not be ideal for your child. It’s recommended that young children are supervised while they’re online so you can choose their content for them.

Interactive Versus Passive Learning

From an educational point of view both TV and the internet can deliver real developmental advantages if used in the right way; the key difference between the Internet and TV as learning tools is that one is interactive and the other primarily passive.

Many Children’s TV programmes encourage them to join in, using repetition, music and activity based content but this interaction is limited as what ever the viewer does it makes no difference to what is happening on screen. The internet delivers real interaction where the child can learn cause and effect and their input is acknowledged and rewarded.

Different types of learning suit people in different ways. Repetition is often used in traditional learning but studies show that is not always the most appropriate method. Children with problems learning in a traditional classroom setup have been shown to perform better when using an interactive interface.

However, the nature of children’s TV – especially educational programming – is that it is the result of extensive research, expert advice and professional production teams. The quality of children’s TV programmes in the UK is pretty high and new programmes are subjected to rigorous tests to make sure that the educational message gets across in the most entertaining and memorable way.

Apart from websites that are spin-offs from TV favourites the quality of children’s websites is as variable as the quality across the internet.


The TV has long been used by parents to ‘babysit’ their children to allow them to get on with other tasks around the house. While parenting experts warn against doing this for long periods the TV does offer an absorbing, quiet and solitary occupation for children. The internet is less effective as a ‘techno-babysitter’ because children are more likely to need help throughout the activity, rather than just to get started.

Good In Moderation

TV, Computer Games and the Internet are all indoor, sedentary activities. While TV and the Internet do offer some educational advantages they can both, when used to excess, cause antisocial behaviour, insomnia, eye strain and concentration problems.

Experts agree that children’s total screen time should be between two and three hours a day (depending on their age). Pre-school children should be limited to thirty minutes per day.

So which is worse? Neither. Used responsibly both the internet and TV can deliver real benefits to children. It all comes down to the right content for the right amount of time.

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