TV Harming Kid’s Health? (Pedcast)


Welcome to another edition of Portable Practical Pediatrics. I’m your host, Dr. Paul Smolen, a board certified pediatrician who has practiced pediatrics in Charlotte NC for the past 35 years. As I like to say, from the womb to the workplace, if it involves children, we talk about it here. Today, I’m going to tell you about a recent family experience I had and what it taught me about the potential negative influence of media, specifically television, on a viewer’s health.  Charge up those mp3 players, put in those buds, and get ready for a fascinating edition of Portable Practical Pediatrics. 

Musical Introduction

A Real Life Story

Don’t believe that exposure to screens including TVs, iPads, and computers influence you and your children?  I think you need to reconsider that belief.  Recently, I got a real-life lesson in the effects of media consumption on illness while helping my 93-year-old mother, a passionate Democrat, recover from a small stroke that occurred the day after the 2016 presidential election. Her stroke a coincidence, you say? I thought so too, but I have become convinced otherwise. According to her doctors, the triggering event for my mother’s stroke was severe hypertension–212/110 upon arrival at the ED. Needless to say, since her discharge and recovery, we have been monitoring her blood pressure carefully, and here is the strange thing I have noticed: her blood pressure while at home watching “cable news” is invariably high, but when we take her to a medical facility, away from the television, her blood pressure normalizes. I’ve coined a name for this phenomenon: “The Cable News Hypertension Syndrome” or CNHS. Simply watching cable news seems to cause my mother to develop a malignant spike in her blood pressure in a dose/response relationship. Apparently, the cable news outlets have mastered the art of provoking a strong emotional and hypertensive physical reaction from my mother.

The Mind Body Connection

How can exposure to images, music, sound effects, and dialogue cause such a strong physical response as to adversely affect someone’s health?  Hopefully, we have all heard of the severe and devastating effects of real-life adverse childhood experiences (or ACE factors) on a child’s long-term health. A child exposed to ACE factors has been shown to have, on average, higher cortisol levels, higher blood pressure, higher sympathetic tone, and less well developed self control than a child who has not endured such exposure. Could exposure to emotionally charged events such as images of terrorism and war on TV, have the same deleterious influence on a child?  Could watching carefully crafted, emotionally charged television content have similar negative effects on children today as it seems to have on my mother who experiences the “Cable News Hypertension Syndrome”?  Of course it can. Evidence already exists that, in children between the ages of three and eight years of age, watching television has the effect of raising blood pressure, independent of whether the children are obese or not. Television became one of the most important inventions of the twentieth century because it is a medium that is capable of provoking strong emotional reactions from all of us.


Big Brother is Watching

To make matters worse, the invention of the internet, social media, and big data has magnified the effect of media on all of us, especially our children.  In today’s world, when your children “watch” something on TV, a website, or you tube, the producers of that content are measuring not only the size of their audience but often the emotional response of the audience to their content. They are tweaking their content to maximize its emotional and physical impact on viewership ultimately to attract benefit advertisers. Orwellian you say?  You bet. They are getting better and better at targeting their media content at people who are likely to respond emotionally to their message and continue to follow the messenger. Ever wonder why news outlets give their articles away on your Facebook feed? You used to have to buy the paper or magazine to read these articles. No more. They “give them to you because the publishers are collecting data on what interests you and learning how to connect with you emotionally via your likes and shares. The same is true for your children. Even the words your children use in social media posts are analyzed and sold to advertisers. Think Google and Facebook are just ways of connecting you and your children with information and your friends? While they do achieve this goal, they also happen to be some of the largest advertising companies in the world, targeting you and your children with laser-like precision.

Parents Need to Take Control of the Messages

Instant access to information and entertainment is fundamentally changing childhood in the United States. I fear that ever more adroit media companies combined with ubiquitous access to screens are gradually corroding the influence of family members on the emotional and physical development of children. Unless parents actively understand and deflect the new media reality, I fear that many will lose control of the most important positive influence a child can have: the time and attention of their parents.  Just as my mother’s example demonstrates, exposure to media with strong emotional messages can be harmful to one’s health. We have known about the potentially negative effects of media consumption on the health of children for some time. Childhood obesity, sleep difficulties, and greater childhood aggression have all been correlated with high media consumption during childhood. My advice to today’s parents is the same as the advise I gave my mother after her stroke,  “Turn off the TV mom”.


Well that’s today’s installment of Portable Practical Pediatrics. If you enjoy learning about child health with pedcasts, take a moment to write a review on iTunes or Facebook and subscribe to my blog at This is Dr. Paul Smolen, broadcasting from studio 1E, that’s the first child’s bedroom on the east side of my house, hoping you don’t go soft, about turning the TV off. Until next time.

Smo Notes:

Media use and children’s perceptions of societal threat and personal vulnerability.

J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2008 Jul;37(3):622-30. doi: 10.1080/15374410802148145.


Associations Between Sedentary Behavior and Blood Pressure in Young Children

David Martinez-Gomez, BScJared Tucker, MScKate A. Heelan, PhD; et alGregory J. Welk, PhDJoey C. Eisenmann, PhD

Author Affiliations Article Information

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009;163(8):724-730. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2009.90