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TV watching linked to aggression and inattention in children

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
television, children, violence, agression, inattention, behavioral disorders

One or more TV sets are a component of just about every US households. Numerous studies have been conducted that point to a myriad of harmful effects of excessive television watching on individuals of all ages. A new study conducted by researchers in The Netherlands focused on preschool children. They published their findings in the October 2012 edition of Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.

Researchers affiliated with the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, The Netherlands designed a study to determine whether the amount, type, and patterns of television viewing predict the onset or the persistence of externalizing problems in preschool children. The study group comprised 3,913 children. Their parents reported time of television exposure and type of programs watched by children. The incidence and persistence of externalizing problems were assessed using the Child Behavior Checklist at 18 and 36 months.

Of the study group, a small portion (approximately 300) already had some behavioral problems; they exhibited oppositional behavior, aggressive actions, and tended to be inattentive. The remainder had no preexisting problems. The researchers found that program content and time of television exposure assessed at 24 months did not predict the incidence of externalizing problems at 36 months; however, the patterns of exposure over time reflecting high levels of television viewing were associated with the incidence of externalizing problems (2.0-fold increased risk) and the persistence of the preexisting externalizing problems (2.59-fold increased risk).

The authors concluded: “Our study showed that high television exposure increases the risk of the incidence and the persistence of externalizing problems in preschool children.”

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This study falls on the heels of a study published on August 6 in the journal Pediatrics by researchers affiliated with the Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development and the University of Washington, both in Seattle Washington. The researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial that evaluated the impact of media violence on children aged three to five years. The intervention encouraged families to replace violent or age-inappropriate media content with quality educational and pro-social content, through an initial home visit and follow-up telephone calls over a period of six months. Sleep measures were derived from the Child Sleep Habits Questionnaire and were collected at six, 12, and 18 months after baseline.

The study group was comprised of 565 children and their families; they were randomly divided into two groups. In one group, the parents of 276 children were encouraged to change their children’s viewing habits over six months by substituting only “healthy media.” After evaluating each family’s situation, the researchers provided channel guides and suggested appropriate shows, such as Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street, and Curious George. In the comparison group, the parents of 289 children were sent healthy eating information instead.

The investigators found that among the 565 children analyzed, the most common sleep problem was delayed sleep-onset latency (38%). Children in the intervention group had significantly lower odds of “any sleep problem” at follow-up in the repeated-measures analysis (average: 0.36), with a trend toward a decrease in intervention effect over time. The authors concluded that the significant effects of a healthy media use intervention on child sleep problems in this study suggest that the previously reported relationship between media use and child sleep problems is indeed causal in nature.

Take home message:
The study on aggressive behavior found that excessive TV watching not only worsened behavioral disorders in children who already exhibited problems in this area but also caused behavioral disorders in children without problems. The second study illustrated the harm of exposure to media violence. Many parents plop their kids down in front of the TV to occupy theme while they pursue household duties or other activities. Violence is not only displayed on news program but also on cartoons. Thus, it behooves parents to not only limit TV exposure to their children but also ensure that they are viewing appropriate content.

Reference: Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine

See also:
The impact of media violence on preschool children
Job stress and sedentary lifestyle increase heart attack risk
Sitting too long can kill you