AboutOurKids talked with Dr. Harold Koplewicz, founder and former chair of the NYU Child Study Center, about three studies that highlight the impact of television viewing on children at different ages:
Q: We're all aware that television can open a world of excitement and information for kids. However, there have been a number of studies which point out the downside of television viewing. For example, previous studies have shown that television can contribute to sleep problems, behavior problems, obesity, and tendency to imitate violent and bullying behavior. How are these new studies different and what's important for parents to know? What makes the difference for some kids?
Dr. Koplewicz: These recent studies (listed below) focus on the relationship between children's actual television environment and habits at home and their academic achievement in school. In one study, (Borzekowski et al) the researchers followed almost 400 third graders and they found that a child who has a TV set in his or her bedroom is likely to score lower on math, reading, and language arts tests compared to a child who doesn't have a TV set in the bedroom.
Q: What do you think might be the reason for this difference?
Dr. Koplewicz: Several factors may affect this finding, according to the study authors. They noted that when television sets are in children's bedrooms, parents are less likely to have control over the content that their children watch and how long they watch.
Q: What happens as children grow older—does watching TV affect children's education in the long run?
Dr. Koplewicz: The results of another study (Hancox et al) found that if children watch a lot of TV, especially at an early age, they are a lot less likely to earn a college degree by their mid-20s. The more the children watched television, the more likely they were to leave school before earning a degree.
Q: At what age are children most vulnerable?
Dr. Koplewicz: When researchers (Zimmerman et al) compared children before age 3 and then at ages 3 to 5, they found that those children who watched a small amount of TV scored better in reading and math tests compared to children who watched a lot of TV.
Q: What can parents do to avoid these negative effects?
Dr. Koplewicz: Parents can take control of their family's television viewing habits. First of all, they can serve as role models by being selective about the content and amount of time of their own watching habits. Take seriously the recommendation of the American Pediatric Association for NO TV for children under age 2. At this age children should be actively exploring their environment and interacting with the people in it, not passively looking at a TV screen. Dr. Christopher P. Lucas, clinical associate professor at the NYU Child Study Center, points out, "TV watching takes up space that could be used by more useful things and should be balanced with the other needs of the child for healthy development." He advises: The amount of TV watching certainly has a link with the reduced amount of time reading or doing homework. The key is the amount of control parents have in limiting the amount of access. Get the TV out the bedroom; be aware of what is being watched; limit the amount of TV watching. Other parent intervention strategies include:
- Set up specific rules about when children can and cannot watch television. For example, do not allow TV during meals or homework time
- Watch with children to be aware of the content of the programs they're watching and discuss relevant issues with them, such as alternative ways to solve problems. Encourage them to view programs which illustrate helping and cooperative behavior rather than impulsive and violent solutions.
- Ban programs considered offensive. Restrict children's viewing to programs considered beneficial, such as documentaries, educational shows, familiar dramatizations, etc. Collect copies of favorite shows.
- Make children aware of the persuasive nature of commercials.
- Encourage children to participate actively in other activities, such as hobbies, social or sports events.
The papers referred to in this summary include:
Borzekowski, D. L. & Robinson, T. (2005). The remote, the mouse, and the No. 2 pencil. The household media environment and academic achievement among third grade students. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med/Vol. 159. pp. 607–613
Hancox, R. J., Milne, B. J. & Poulton, R. (2005). Association of television viewing during childhood with poor educational achievement. Arch. Pediatr Adolesc Med/Vol. 159. pp. 614–618
Zimmerman, F. J. and Christakis, D. A. (2005). Children's television viewing and cognitive outcomes. Arch. Pediatr Adolesc Med/Vol. 159. pp 619–625