TV does more harm than good to kids

  • Deborah Condon

Parents are being warned to limit the amount of television their children watch before the age of two, after a major review found that it can do more harm than good to their ongoing development.

Prof Dimitri Christakis of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute carried out an extensive review involving 78 studies published over the last 25 years. The review looked at the effect that television has on children’s language, cognitive skills and attention capacity.

“No studies to date have demonstrated benefits associated with early infant TV viewing. The weight of existing evidence suggests the potential for harm and I believe that parents should exercise due caution in exposing infants to excessive media,” Prof Christakis said.

He pointed out that many children under the age of two watch television regularly, despite ongoing warnings. Some spend as much as 40% of their waking hours in front of a TV.

Prof Christakis found that according to a number of studies, watching TV programmes or DVDs aimed at infants can actually delay language development. For example, a 2008 Thai study found that if children under 12 months watched TV for more than two hours a day, they were six times more likely to have delayed language skills.

Another study found that children who watched baby DVDs between seven and 16 months knew fewer words than children who did not.

The review also found that infants as young as 14 months will imitate what they see on a TV screen, but they learn better from live presentations. For example, one study found that children learnt Mandarin Chinese better from a native speaker than they did from a video of the same speaker.

In one study carried out by Prof Christakis and his colleagues, they found that children who had watched a lot of TV in their early years did not perform as well when they underwent tests to check their reading and memory skills.

In another study carried out by the professor and his colleagues, they found a link between TV viewing before the age of three and attention problems at the age of seven.

Meanwhile more than one in five parents who took part in another study said that they got their infants to watch TV when they needed time to themselves. This, Prof Christakis said, is an understandable and realistic need, but not one that should be actively promoted.

When querying why television has such a negative effect on children of this age, the professor said that one reason is the fact that it exposes children to flashing lights, scene changes, quick edits and auditory cuts ‘which may be over stimulating to developing brains’.

“TV also replaces other more important and appropriate activities like playing or interacting with parents,” he explained.

Prof Christakis pointed out that while there have been concerns about infants viewing TV for the last four decades, it is only in recent years that studies have provided the data to back up those concerns.

“The explosion in infant TV viewing and the potential risks associated with it raise several important policy implications. First and foremost, the lack of regulation related to claims made by people promoting programmes and DVDs aimed at infants is problematic. Educational claims should, and can, be based on scientific data. Despite this, the names of the products and the testimonials they use often convince parents that TV viewing has a positive impact on their infants,” he said.

Secondly, parents need to be better informed about what activities really do promote healthy development in young children. This may provide some defence against the aggressive marketing techniques being employed.

“Last, but not least, more resources need to be made available to fund critical research related to the effects of media on young children.”

Details of this review are published in the journal, Acta Paediatrica.


Anonymous - 16/01/2009 09:38

A call to limit the amount of television children watch before the age of two??? I can't beleive what I'm reading. Why would any parent put their two year old toddler Watching TV? It's not as if it is exactly and interactive learning tool for that age.

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