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  • Writer's pictureNathan Terey BS, MA, CHt., CAAC

The Negative Effects of Kids Watching Television Before School: Delayed Gratification and Children

Toxic eefects of kids and tv
What becomes your reality can be rooted in fantasy


In the digital age, television has become an integral part of everyday life, influencing the way we gather information and entertain ourselves. However, the increasing trend of children watching television before school raises concerns about its potential negative impact on their cognitive and behavioral development. In this post I will help you to explore and consider the detrimental effects of this practice, with a specific focus on the correlations between watching television before school and the inability to delay gratification in children.

This is a topic that hits close to home for me, literally. I keep a close eye on my 5 year old daughter and am very cognizant of the amount of television time she is allowed. In my home, I especially don’t allow it when she wakes up first thing in the morning, granted, I will admit, that we do occasionally enjoy lying in bed and watching cartoons on the weekends (I find this to be very nostalgic for myself). However, this can be a point of contention in sessions with parents that I see. They don’t seem to fully comprehend the negative impacts that “TV time” can have first thing in the morning.


The Rise of Television Consumption Before School

The advent of streaming services and easy access to a variety of channels has led to a surge in children watching television before school. Whether it's the allure of animated cartoons, educational programs, or simply the desire for entertainment, many children are exposed to screens in the morning hours. While some parents may see this as a harmless activity, research suggests otherwise.


Cognitive Impact on Children

1. Impaired Attention and Concentration

Kids difficulty focusing, too much screen time

Watching television before school can disrupt a child's ability to focus on academic tasks. The fast-paced nature of many TV programs can contribute to shortened attention spans, making it challenging for children to concentrate on lessons and assignments once they are in the classroom.


2. Negative Impact on Memory Formation

Excessive screen time, especially in the morning, may hinder the formation of memories crucial for learning. The cognitive load from the visual and auditory stimuli on television can interfere with the encoding and retention of information.


3. Reduced Critical Thinking Skills

Children exposed to television content before school may become passive consumers of information rather than active thinkers (does this remind you of society in general nowadays?). This passivity can impede the development of critical thinking skills necessary for problem-solving and academic success.


Behavioral Impact on Children

1. Increased Aggression and Impulsivity (hmm, before we get to ADHD and Adderall)

Certain television programs, even those targeted at children, may contain aggressive or impulsive behavior. Exposure to such content before school hours can contribute to negative behavioral patterns (through conditioning), affecting the child's interactions with peers and teachers.


2. Disrupted Morning Routine

Watching television before school can disrupt a child's morning routine, leading to delays in getting ready for the day. They are staring off their day in the realm of fantasy rather than reality, and it can be difficult for a little one to come back to reality as they must do to move through their day. This can result in rushed preparations and heightened stress levels, impacting the child's overall well-being.

Resisting instant gratification and kids

Some of you may be asking yourself what “delaying gratification” actually means. Delaying gratification refers to the ability to resist the temptation of an immediate reward in favor of a more significant, delayed reward. It is often associated with self-discipline, impulse control,

delayed gratification leads to more happiness, instant gratification leads to unhappiness

and the ability to prioritize long-term objectives over short-term desires (I won't dive into the correlations between impulse control, ADHD, parenting, and delaying gratification right now...different time, different post).

Here is an example of a child delaying gratification. A child who is offered a choice between eating a single piece of candy now or waiting for an hour to receive three pieces of candy. (I am in no way advocating for feeding your children processed sugar). Delaying gratification,

Delaying gratification in children
Marshmallow test

in this scenario, would involve the child choosing to wait patiently for the larger reward instead of succumbing to the immediate pleasure of consuming a single piece of candy. This ability to wait demonstrates the child's capacity to delay gratification for a more

favorable outcome (For further interesting information on delaying gratification, search online for “the marshmallow test”).


Correlations of Delayed Gratification and Television

1. Instant Gratification from Visual Stimulation

Television provides instant gratification through visually stimulating content. Children who regularly engage in watching TV before school may develop a preference for immediate rewards, making it challenging for them to delay gratification in other aspects of life.


2. Limited Patience and Persistence

The constant barrage of changing scenes and storylines on television can contribute to a decreased ability to wait patiently for rewards. This lack of patience may translate into difficulties in persisting through challenging tasks at school, where delayed gratification is essential for academic success.


the negative results of too much screen time

3. Impact on Goal-setting and Achievement

The inability to delay gratification is closely linked to a child's capacity to set and achieve long-term goals. Regularly indulging in the instant gratification offered by television may hinder a child's motivation to work towards more substantial, delayed rewards associated with academic accomplishments.


While television can be a valuable source of entertainment and education, its negative impact on children when consumed before school should not be underestimated. Parents and educators play a crucial role in fostering a healthy balance between screen time and other activities that promote cognitive and behavioral development. By recognizing the correlations between watching television before school and the inability to delay gratification, we can work towards creating environments that support the overall well-being and success of our children.


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