Okay so one week we hear early television watching isn't so bad. Another week, it's linked to bad behavior. MSNBC online now has two maddeningly contradictory headlines running this week. First we read "Attention problems linked to early TV viewing." Then we see "Turning off TV at early age can avoid problems." No wonder parents are so confused. I was confused.
So what's a parent to believe? Is tv the all-encompassing evil sitting inside your home spoiling your children's developing gray matter? Probably not. The issue here, is age. The study claiming early tv isn't so bad assessed tv viewing at age 2 and again at age 5. They asked parents to report their children's viewing habits at each point in time. They also evaluated their kids on a number of social and behavioral measures at age 5. Looks like there weren't any poor outcomes associated with viewing tv a couple hours at age 2. Kids who watching two hours a more at age 2 and 5 had reduced behavioral skills. Looks like the worse outcomes were for kids who start watching more at a later age, by age 5. Strange, eh? Who were the kids who started watching more and more? I'll take a gander and say maybe these kids were having other issues that prevented them from going to kindergarten at 5 or doing other activities outside and within the home - activities with other kids and adults. I couldn't find evidence the researchers looked at these other factors. So we really don't know for sure. But I'm thinking there was something about these kids (who didn't watch much at 2 but now watch a lot at 5 ) that separates them from other children. The irony here is that a couple hours of tv a day didn't seem to harm two year olds. Perhaps it's a positive sign if your child can actually focus on tv at two? How's that for playing devil's advocate? Someone should sent this report to the American Academy of Pediatrics committee who announced children 2 and under should not be watching any tv.
So what about the study claiming early tv harms kids? Well, the youngest kids they assessed were 5 years old. Again, looks like lots of tv for 5 and up may signal other issues. I haven't looked at the research in detail. But this is my guess. I'll let you know...
The New York Times profiled the first study recently in the Science section on October 9th.
The two studies behind the headlines both appeared in the American Academy of Pediatric's journal, Pediatrics.