Q: I have an son who’s 11 and a daughter who’s 9½, and for many years, they have sat close to the TV when watching. I have asked them to sit farther away, and they do move back maybe a foot…but they always go back to viewing the show close up, even if the screen is a 40” color flat screen. Any studies that show why? Any concerns? My wife and I sit 8 to 10 feet from the TV.
–Up Close and Personal, in Rochester Hills, MI
A: Dear Up Close,
Concern about sitting close to TV screens, like concern about reading in low light, is founded more on what our parents told us when we were little than on research. The worries about sitting close dates from the (not so long ago) time when TVs were actually “tubes”—cathode ray tubes, that is—and people were uncertain about how the cathode radiation emitted might affect a viewer’s eyes. Today’s TVs flatscreens only emit the light you see, which removes that concern. And there’s no evidence that sitting close to either kind of screen hurts your eyes.
That said, the fact that your children sit so close to the TV may be a sign that they are near-sighted and that this distance is where they best resolve the pixels of color, light, and darkness into a coherent image. Bring them in for an eye exam to see whether they need glasses.
If their eyes are fine, then they probably sit close because they like having the screen fill their peripheral vision. That shouldn’t cause any problems. Just make sure that they aren’t staring at screens all the time—that can cause eye strain and, of course, will take time away from all of the other activities they need to accomplish in a day to be happy and healthy.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
Media expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, answers your questions about media use. Last week, he discussed a report detailing just how much media kids are using.
Here’s this week’s question:
Q: In your NPR Parents’ Journal interview, you stated that children under the age of 30 months do not learn anything about language from TV programs, but I disagree. My 17-month-old daughter is not allowed to watch entertainment TV, but since she was 9 months old, she has watched a baby signing language DVD series about 3 times a week. Now she knows about 80 signs (and about 60 spoken words), and learning sign language as a family has greatly enhanced our relationships because she can tell us what she needs without crying and throwing a tantrum. I feel strongly that the 1-2 hours of media exposure a week are making her toddlerhood much less frustrating and are worth whatever negative effects are possible. I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter.
–Serious about Signing, Baltimore, MD …