Television link to behaviour problems in young children
Young children who watch television for three or more hours per day are more likely to steal and get into fights, according to a new study.
The fifteen per cent of five-year-olds who spend at least three hours in front of the television each day are at a slightly higher risk of anti-social behaviour by the age of seven, Glasgow University researchers found.
In contrast there was no noticeable impact of computer or other video games on behaviour, although children generally spent less time playing games than watching television.
The link between television viewing and behavioural problems could be down to sleeping problems or a lack of physical activity, researchers said, while some children’s temperament could influence their screen-watching habits.
It could also be the case that it is what children watch on television, and not how long they spend watching it, that influences their behaviour, they added.
Dr Alison Parkes said: “Our work suggests that limiting the amount of time children spend in front of the TV is, in itself, unlikely to improve psychosocial adjustment. In future it will be important to look at the influence of what children watch on TV, and the role of parents watching with their child and discussing content with them, as well as how much children watch.”
The study, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood journal, was the first in the UK to examine the link between children’s screen use and changes in their mental health over time.
Researchers questioned the mothers of more than 11,000 children about their typical hours of television and video game use at the age of five.
They also asked about any difficulties in the children’s behaviour, emotions, attention span, relationships and concern for others at both the ages of five and seven.
At the age of five, almost two thirds of children watched television for between one and three hours per day, with 15 per cent watching more and fewer than two per cent not watching television at all.
Those who watched more than three hours’ television per day were 1.3 per cent more likely to have behavioural problems such as stealing or fighting by the age of seven than those who watched television for less than an hour per day.
Professor Hugh Perry, of the Medical Research Council, which funded the study, said: “We’re living in a world that is increasingly dominated by electronic entertainment, and parents are understandably concerned about the impact this might be having on their children’s well-being and mental health.
“This important study suggests the relationship between TV and video games and health is complex and influenced by many other social and environmental factors.”