Dear EarthTalk: Years ago I read that children should be kept at least 2 feet from the television because of harmful electronic emissions. Is this still relevant? Is there a difference regarding this between older and new flat-screen models?
— Horst E. Mehring,
Luckily for many of us, and our kids, sitting “too” close to the television isn’t known to cause any human health issues. This myth prevails because back in the 1960s General Electric sold some new-fangled color television sets that emitted excessive amounts of radiation — as much as 100,000 times more than federal health officials considered safe. GE quickly recalled and repaired the faulty televisions, but the stigma lingers to this day.
But even though electronic emissions aren’t an issue with televisions made any time after 1968 (including today’s LCD and plasma flat screens), what about causing harm to one’s vision? Dr. Lee Duffner of the American Academy of Ophthalmology isn’t concerned, maintaining that watching television screens — close-up or otherwise — “won’t cause any physical damage to your eyes.” He adds, however, that a lot of television watching can surely cause eyestrain and fatigue, particularly for those sitting very close and/or watching from odd angles. But there is an easy cure for eyestrain and fatigue: turning off the television and getting some rest.
Debra Ronca, a contributor to the How Stuff Works Web site, argues that some parents might be putting the cart before the horse in blaming close-up television watching for their child’s vision issues. “Sitting close to the television may not make a child nearsighted, but a child may sit close to the television because he or she is nearsighted and undiagnosed,” she reports. “If your child habitually sits too close to the television for comfort, get his or her eyes tested.”
Of course, excessive television viewing by kids can cause health problems indirectly. According to the Nemours Foundation’s KidsHealth Web site, children who consistently watch television more than four hours a day are more likely to be overweight, which in and of itself can bring about health problems later. Also, kids who watch a lot of television are more likely to copy bad behavior they see on-screen and tend to “fear that the world is scary and that something bad will happen to them.” Nemours also finds that television characters often depict risky behaviors (like smoking and drinking) and also tend to reinforce gender-role and racial stereotypes.
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