Early TV Bad, Early TV Not Bad - What's the Deal

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.


Dr. Polly said...

Here's more on the study showing no ill effects of 2 hours or more tv at age 2. The New York Times ran a blurb in the Science section on Tuesday, October 9th (F6). For kids who just watched at age 2 there was no evidence of reduced social or behavioral skills by age 5. There were poorer behavioral skills for kids who watched more than 2 hours both at age 2 and age 5. But for kids who watched only two hours or more at age 5 (not at age 2) - they had reduced social skills. As a psychologist I infer that the latter group, the one with poorer social skills, probably is having the more difficult time with peers and school. They're probably more apt to have some labels put on them - I'm thinking of the austic spectrum. But of course this all conjecture on my part - the study in question didn't assess these disorders.

Anonymous said...

Are you serious? More than 2 hours of TV PER DAY EVERY DAY for a 24 month year old child?

Save electricity and get to know your child at the most precious time of their lives. Turn off that TV and entertain them yourself!

Let's look not at motivation for why you turn on that television for a 24 MONTH YEAR OLD HUMAN BEING for 14 hours a week?

Think of this it this way, that's like leaving your child one day a week in front of the TV the ENTIRE time you are awake for that single day. And then you repeat it every week. Would you ever wake up on a given day, plop your kid in front of the TV and leave them there until you come back right before you go to bed so that you could put them to sleep?

Is it to "enhance" their brain development? Or is it other reasons such as pure laziness as a parent or inability to find childcare options that provide real human interaction?