Does TV watching breed badly-behaved children?
Angela Mulholland, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, March 27, 2013 9:31AM EDT
A new study out of Britain is leaving parents with more questions than answers about what effect watching television and playing video games have on their children.
The study tracked the TV and video game habits of more than 11,000 five-year-olds and found that by age seven, those kids who watched more than three hours of TV a day had a small increase in conduct problems -– meaning they were more likely to regularly act “naughty.”
Some U.K. media outlets concluded the study was another example that TV harms children, while others said the reported effects were so small, they were almost negligible.
Britian’s National Health Service -– the country’s Health Canada equivalent – also weighed in on the study published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood. It decided that no conclusive answers could be drawn from it.
“Unfortunately, this research can’t conclusively tell us if there’s a link between watching TV and psychological and behavioural problems. From these limited results, it seems that any such link is likely to be small.”
The researchers were looking for what effects TV viewing and video game playing had on children’s behaviour, attention span, emotions and peer relationships.
Initially, they found that exposure to either TV or games for three hours or more a day was associated with an increase in all those areas. But after they adjusted for variables known to also affect behaviour problems, such as maternal characteristics and family functioning, they found that watching TV for three hours or more per day led to only a 0.13 point increase in conduct problems at seven years of age, compared to the kids who watched TV for less than an hour a day.
They found no link to hyperactivity/inattention, emotional symptoms, peer relationship problems, or pro-social behaviour.
Parenting expert Alyson Schafer agrees it’s hard to draw any conclusions from this study, given how small the reported effects were.
“The media jumped on this and said, ‘See? Television is bad. You are going to turn your child into little monsters with behavioural problems.’ But if we actually go back to the researchers who conducted the study, their summation of what they found is, ‘Hmm, doesn’t seem like much. More research needs to be done’,” Schafer told CTV’s Canada AM Wednesday.
Schafer notes there were a number of flaws in the study, particularly that the researchers didn’t consider the content of the shows the kids were watching
“The only thing they found were problems with conduct. So essentially, the kids were disobedient. Well, they’re seven. Kids get a little more disobedient between five and seven. They were looking for things to fall apart and the truth is they just didn’t find it,” she said
Schafer notes that the Canadian Paediatric Society advises children under the age of two watch no TV at all, while those over two-years-old should watch no more than two hours a day. But she says it’s likely that children are exposed to a lot more TV than their parents might realize.
“The truth is, if you look at what’s happening, kids are watching up to seven hours a day. There are now TVs in cars, restaurants, there can be monitors on grocery carts, we have handheld devices,” she said.
Given that children are going to be watching TV, Schafer says most experts advise that parents watch TV with their kids to ensure that the content is commercial-free and sends a positive message to your children.
“Because we know that if they watch pro-social behaviour on TV, they’ll actually model it,” Schafer says.
But Schafer says what really worries her is that three hours of TV a day represents about 25 per cent of a child’s day.
“What are they displacing when they’re watching all that television? That’s my concern,” she said.
“We need to help our kids find something to do outside of television viewing where they learn to self-entertain,” she added.
“It would be great to turn off the TV and not have our kids grab our pant leg and say, ‘Play with me!’ and for us to be able to say, ‘No, you can play on your own; just because the television’s off doesn’t mean that I’m on. I don’t have to be the entertainment for the family.’
“Kids need to learn to play on their own.”