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The Informed Parent

Too Much TV Watching?

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Nov. 05, 2007

How bad is television for young children? Does it really make a difference how much television a child watches? Many parents wonder if long-term television watching has any negative effects on a child’s future behavior. Could it impair social skills later on in the child’s life?

A recent study analyzed data collected from the Healthy Steps for Young Children evaluation. Television exposure was defined as greater than two hours of daily use. The study measured television viewing at age 30-to-33 months and again at 51/2 years. It was also noted if a child had a television in his bedroom. The child’s behavior and social skills were assessed at age 51/2 years.

The results showed that 16 percent of parents reported that their child watched more than two hours of television daily at 30-to-33 months. Fifteen percent reported greater than two hours of television daily at age 51/2 years. Twenty percent of parents reported television viewing of more than two hours daily in both age groups. Furthermore, forty-one percent of children had a television in their room at age 51/2 years.

Not surprising, the study showed that sustained television viewing of more than two hours per day resulted in children with fewer social skills. These heavy television watching children also tended to demonstrate reduced cooperation, lower self-confidence, and less emotional reactivity. Quite interesting, it was noted that those children who only had heavy television viewing in early childhood but not at age 51/2 years showed no consistent relation between social skills and television watching. 

Children who had a television in their room tended to have greater sleep problems and less emotional reactivity at age 51/2 years than those children without a television in their room.

Current research concludes that sustained television watching is a risk factor for later behavioral problems in young children. However, early heavy television watching that is later reduced does not seem to pose any long-term problems. Children who had sustained television watching also tended to have notable difficulties with social skills, with decreased cooperation, self-control, and assertiveness when compared to their non-television watching peers.

The content of the television program may paly a part in the development of a child’s behavior. A number of studies have examined the benefits of educational programming such as Sesame Street for young children. These educational pro-social programs for young children seem to promote specific positive aspects of a child’s development such as imaginativeness and knowledge.

In any case, it is important for parents to remember that heavy television viewing in young children should be limited. Parents should encourage other interesting non-television activities for these children. See your child’s doctor if you have any question.

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