Personally, I know that I have been subjected to the motherly ordinance of “don’t sit too close to the television.” But, as you may also be wondering, is this because of potential damage to your eyes, or something more sinister? Surprisingly, the origin of this advice has nothing to do with eye strain, or your eyes at all. In reality, the dangers of proximity to a television is a holdover from a faulty TV manufactured by General Electric in 1967.
Do the dangers of the 60’s still persist? Or is this a case of a perpetuating misconception that has no relevance today?
Origins of the Myth
So why do parents the world over still say this to their kids? Giving some credence to this myth, there was actually a very brief period of time where sitting close to the TV could damage your eyes (or any other sensitive tissue), assuming you owned a General Electric TV in the 1960s. Specifically, in 1967, General Electric informed the public that many of their color televisions were emitting excessive x-rays due to a “factory error”. GE fixed this problem by putting a leaded glass shield around the tubes.
Health officials at the time estimated that the amount of radiation being given off by these defective TVs was about 10 to 100,000 times higher than the rate considered acceptable. They recommended, if you owned one of these TVs, not to sit too close. As long as you were a few feet away and didn’t watch TV for more than an hour at a time at close range, you were (probably) fine. General Electric of course recalled all these TV’s and have since fixed the problem.
[Aside] People have always been scared of radiation. It’s scary because you can’t see it, and you can do little to protect yourself; it’s the invisible killer. But recently, the public has been freaking out over radiation that does not scale-up to deadly levels. A good example of this is the (unfounded) fears about airport body scanners.
The solved problem of x-ray emitting TV’s notwithstanding, moms the world over have ever since felt that it is bad for their kids to sit too close to the TV. At worst sitting excessively close to the TV these days will just give you a headache and possible eyestrain, but for most people probably not even that. Even for those it does happen to, neither of those are in any way permanently damaging. Both eyestrain and headache more or less fix themselves shortly after you stop sitting close to the TV.
So, at one point in history, there was a very good reason not to let your children sit too close to the television. Today, with all of the advancements in screens and projection technology, no matter the distance, children’s eyes are safe from real damage. Moms should be more worried about letting their kids become couch-potatoes and TV sponges, contributing to an ever-increasing obesity epidemic.
[Reposted (with editing) from Misconception Junction]