Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Health & Educational Effects Of TV On Kids

Remote Control: The Health & Educational Effects Of TV On Your Kids
By: Meghan Lynch Forder, Kids and Health Columnist

Must-see TV indeed.

"First, stick with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children under 2 years old not watch any TV."

A 2003 study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the Children’s Digital Media Centers found that the average child spends about two hours each day watching TV...
…about as long as they spend playing outside, and three times as long as they spend reading. And those numbers may be conservative. A 2005 study published in the rchives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that children under 3 years watched an average of 2.2 hours a day, while children from 3 to 5 years watched an average of 3.3 hours per day.

Just over two hours may not seem excessive, but that’s more than 15 hours a week, or nearly one full day’s awake hours spent in front of the tube.In fact, the National Institute on Media and Family claims that children spend more time watching TV than they do at any other activity besides sleeping.

And there is a price to pay for viewing.

For one thing, there is a direct link between hours spent watching TV and obesity in children. A 2005 study from New Zealand concluded that a child’s weight was directly related to the amount of time she spends in front of the TV. A 2001 study reviewing results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that the prevalence of obesity is lowest in kids who watch one or fewer hours of TV a day, and highest in kids who watch more than four hours a day.

TV works on obesity in at least three different ways. For one thing, when a child is watching TV, he’s not outside playing and getting exercise. Also, time spent watching TV is often combined with mindless snacking. Finally, and perhaps most insidiously, kids are exposed to endless commercials for junk food, potentially driving further unhealthy eating.

Even more troubling are the long-term behavioral and cognitive effects associated with TV watching, particularly among very young children.

A 2004 study in Pediatrics found that the more time 1- and 3-year-olds spent watching TV, the more likely they were to have “attentional problems” by the time they were 7 years old. These attentional problems included difficulty concentrating, confusion, impulsiveness, and restlessness.

A 2002 study linked TV time to social problems, delinquent behavior, and aggressive behavior in second- and third-graders.

And these, of course, are just the tip of the TV iceberg. Excessive TV viewing has also been linked with violence, early teen sex, and a decreased likelihood to graduate from college.

But before you take a hammer to your idiot box, there is one good thing that TV has to offer kids: educational programs.

In 2001, a group of researchers working for The Early Window Project, which examined the effects of TV on young children, tracked children’s activities for three years, from 2- to 5-years-old or from 4- to 7-years-old. The study showed positive results from children’s educational programs, such as Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow. The results suggested that for young children, watching educational TV increased reading and math skills, vocabulary, and overall school readiness.

However, children who watched general-audience, or non-education programming, performed less well in these areas.

As a parent, here’s what you need to know to minimize the negative and maximize the positive uses of TV for your kids.

First, stick with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children under 2 years old not watch any TV. For the first two years of life, the Academy says, children need positive interaction with other children and adults—activities that will provide them positive feedback—to develop their language and social skills.

For children over 2, set rules about TV. The Kaiser study I mentioned at the beginning of this column found that children of parents who enforce media rules are more likely to read every day, to spend more time reading, and to spend more time playing outside. In general, two hours a day is a good maximum, particularly if those two hours are spent watching educational programming. And remember, those two hours should include all time spent in front of a screen, whether watching TV, watching movies, or playing video games.

Know what your kids are watching, watch with them when you can, and talk to them about what you see. TV is at its best—for kids and adults—when it sparks curiosity, discussion, and learning.

Finally, make sure your kids have other options, so they’re not glued to the TV out of habit or boredom. Reading, sports, playing an instrument, or art are all more productive activities than TV, without the negative baggage.


Kaiser study: Fall 2003, by V. J. Rideout, E. A. Vandewater, and E. A. Wartella, “Zero to Six: Electronic media in the lives of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.”

2005 study: July 2005 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, by F. J. Zimmerman and D. A. Christakis, “Children’s television viewing and cognitive outcomes: a longitudinal analysis of national data.”

New Zealand study: September 13, 2005, issue of The International Journal of Obesity, by R. J. Hancox and R. Poulton from the University of Otago, “Watching television is associated with childhood obesity: but is it clinically important?”

2001 study based on the data from the national health survey: March 2001 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, by C. J. Crespo, E. Smit, R. P. Troiano, S. J. Bartlett, C. A. Macera, and R.E. Andersen, “Television watching, energy intake, and obesity in US children.”

Attentional problems: April 2004 issue of Pediatrics, by Christakis, Zimmerman, D. L. DiGiuseppe, and C. A. McCarty, “Early television exposure and subsequent attentional problems in children.”

Social problems: September 2002 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, by E. Özmert, M. Toyran, and K. Yurdakök, “Behavioral correlates of television viewing in primary school children evaluated by the child behavior checklist.”

Educational TV: 2001 issue of Child Development, by J.C. Wright, A.C. Huston, K.C. Murphy, M. St Peters, M. Piñon, R. Scantlin, and J. Kotler, “The relations of early television viewing to school readiness and vocabulary of children from low-income families: The Early Window Project.”

About Meghan Lynch Forder, Kids and Health Columnist
In addition to her role as children’s health columnist, Meghan Lynch Forder is a full-time senior editor for a high-tech company in San Francisco and a part-time freelance writer on women’s and children’s issues.


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