Preschool boys who watch violent TV programs, even in the form of cartoons, may be more aggressive than their peers later in childhood, researchers reported Monday.
In a study of 330 boys and girls who were followed from preschool up to age 9, boys exposed to TV violence in their preschool years were more likely to show aggressive behaviour later on, according to lead researcher Dr Dimitri A. Christakis, of the Child Health Institute, Seattle, and associates.
In general, these boys were more likely to be disobedient at school, have trouble with teachers or be "mean" to other children.
There was no such relationship seen among girls, however, the researchers report in the journal Pediatrics.
Study focused on preschool children
Other studies have pointed to links between media violence and children's and teenagers' tendency toward real violence. But little of this research has focused on preschool children, Christakis said.
"Preschoolers watch a lot of TV, and a lot of it is inappropriate for them," he told Reuters Health. "Many programs that parents don't think of as violent really are," said Christakis, pointing out that even cartoon violence counts.
Preschool children, he explained, cannot yet separate cartoon violence - where a character can get clubbed on the head, see stars for a moment, then recover - from real life.
Violence portrayed as amusing
The problem is that such programs "portray violence as amusing and suggest that it has no consequences," Christakis said.
He and colleague Dr Frederick J. Zimmerman evaluated data supplied by parents who reported on the television viewing of their children when they were between the ages of 2 and 5. When the children were 7 to 9 years old, their parents completed a questionnaire on typical child behavioural problems.
Among preschool boys, some of the popular violence-containing programs included cartoons like "Power Rangers," as well as football and movies such as "Star Wars."
Boys who watched these programs were more likely than their peers to have behavioural problems after they started primary school. In contrast, non-violent shows and educational programs, such as "Sesame Street," were unrelated to aggressive behaviour.
According to Christakis, the findings suggest that parents should choose educational shows for their preschoolers over those that contain violence, even if it's the cartoon variety.
When children do see media violence, he said, parents should talk to them about it - for example, pointing out how, in real life, violence hurts people.
Studies such as this one can only point to an association between media violence and children's behaviour; they cannot prove definitively that one causes the other. However, Christakis noted that many studies have now found a relationship between the two, making a strong case that media violence directly affects some children.
"The evidence supporting this," he said, "is as strong as the evidence linking smoking and lung cancer." - (Amy Norton/Reuters Health)
SOURCE: Pediatrics, November 2007.
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