A new study of children and their TV habits suggests that very young children who watch a lot of TV each day are more likely to develop behavioural problems - but if parents curb their children's viewing habits before they reach the age of five, it may not have lasting consequences.
Kamila B. Mistry and colleagues from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore found that children who watched more than two hours of TV daily at both 2.5 and 5.5 years of age had worse behaviour and poorer social skills than their peers who spent less time in front of the tube.
If two year-olds who watch more than two hours daily cut their viewing time to below two hours by age five, no negative behavioural or social consequences are seen.
"I think in some ways it's a positive message," Mistry told Reuters Health.
TV time should be limited
The findings confirm, she said, that health care providers should keep advising parents to limit kids' TV consumption to less than two hours daily. "I think it's important to continue that message. It's not futile to continue it. It's never too late."
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two years old not watch any television and that older children not watch more than one - two hours of "entertainment media" daily.
The group also advises parents not to put TVs in their children's bedrooms.
The effects of TV exposure probably vary with a child's age, Mistry and her team note in their report published in the journal Pediatrics.
How the study was done
To determine whether viewing during very early and later childhood had different effects, they interviewed the mothers of 2 707 children when the children were 30 to 33 months old, and again when the children were 5.5 years old.
One in five of the children viewed more than two hours of TV daily at both time points, while 41 percent had TV sets in their bedrooms by age 5.5, the researchers found.
While early TV viewing had no effect on kids' behaviour if they watched less TV later on, children who were heavy TV watchers at two and five years of age had more attention and sleep problems and behaved more aggressively.
And children who had TVs in their bedrooms at age 5.5 had more sleep problems and duller emotional reactivity than their peers with TV-free bedrooms.
Conclusions of the study
"It is likely that having a television in the bedroom may lead to increased television viewing at bedtime, thereby interfering with regular sleep patterns and decreasing the intensity with which children react to stimulation," Mistry and her colleagues write.
The study didn't look at the content of the shows kids watched, or the context - for example, if children were viewing alone or if their parents were sitting with them, Mistry noted.
Investigating these issues, she added, is "a really important next step to a study like this." – (Anne Harding, Reuters Health)
TV linked to lower marks
TV or no TV? Kids chanelled to exercise