Does TV make kids naughty?

Does TV make my child naughty? When I take the easy option, plop her in front of the TV and enjoy some desperately needed quiet time, my little angel turns into a gremlin (well she’s not exactly an angel without TV but you get the gist).

In pondering the question I jumped into that fountain of all modern knowledge, Google and discovered some frightening facts. The American Academy of Paediatricians (AAP) reports that the average child watches seven hours of ‘entertainment media’ a day that includes computers, phones and other electronic devices.[1] Whilst the psychologist, Aric Sigman claims that by the age of seven, the average child will have watched an entire year of 24 hours of TV a day![2] This seems like an enormous waste of childhood to me, I am not even sure that much screen time was available when I was a kid? There were only two hours of kids TV after school with classics such as ‘Bananaman’ and computer games were so rare they were a communal activity. Our neighbours had ‘Paperboy’ on the Commodore 64 and were the most popular kids on the street.

The AAP and Australian Government recommend no screen time for children under two years old.[3] This recommendation seems pretty reasonable to me, babies are complete sponges, learning and acquiring new skills every waking moment, they want to explore, touch, smell, smear and generally cause as much glorious destruction as possible. I don’t know about everyone else’s child but I couldn’t get my daughter to sit and watch any form of TV before the age of two, try as I might on a nightmarish flight from Australia to the UK! That said she did love the music and a little baby bop along to some of those hideously catchy songs by the Wiggles.

So what did the almighty Google teach me, does TV make our kids more naughty?

One UK paper reported ‘Watching TV for three hours a day will not harm your children’ after a large UK study was released.[4] Another paper had the headline ‘Too much television turns children into monsters’ after considering the SAME report.[5] Great job on objective journalism guys!

How the devil are confused parents like me supposed to learn anything when the media twists the simplest facts to push their own agenda?

So like a good little student I read the study myself.[6] The study actually found a very small increase in ‘conduct problems,’ or being naughty to you and me, in kids from age three to five years old if they watched over three hours of TV a day. The study took into account other factors such as the household income, mother’s education, warmth and conflict between mother and child and ‘household chaos’ (I love that scientists use this term). Importantly, the study considered the characteristics of the child because, as we all know, every child is their own unique self. The study found no effect found on hyperactivity/inattention, emotional symptoms, peer relationship problems or prosocial behaviour (being helpful).

Interestingly the study also found playing electronic games from three to five years was not associated with increased risk of psychosocial problems. I wonder if this is because kids need to be constantly learning and developing so they can become fully functioning grown ups? In cave man times they would have had to watch mum and dad to learn to survive, hunt a bear, start a fire, and other Bear Grylls type activities. Although computer games aren’t teaching them the skills they need for ‘Man vs Wild’ they are interactive, they have to practise and learn to improve; TV on the other hand is a pretty passive experience, sitting eyes glued and letting the entertainment wash over you. I am not a scientist though and this is entirely speculation.

Still, this is great news I can pull out the two-dimensional babysitter when needed without too much guilt right?

Not quite I am afraid. There have been many other studies that suggest that too much screen time can have detrimental effects. A Canadian study[7] found that every additional hour of TV at 29 months leads to decreased engagement in the classroom, and increases in the chances of being bullied, decreased physical activity and increased BMI. None of this sounds very good to me, I don’t want my little girl to be bored, chubby and bullied by the time she gets to school. Sad face emoji ,if I knew how to do such things.

So what conclusions have I drawn from my extensive browsing through the world of the internet?

Well I didn’t find it particularly insightful, as with almost all things related to raising children there was a lot of conflicting information. So back to little old me to make my own decisions. I am not a scientist, I don’t even have that much experience with kids other than my own and a sample size of one was not ideal for drawing firm conclusions last time I checked. What I have noticed though, is that if I take the easy option and plonk her in front of the TV for too long I pay a price later. Tantrums, crying and severe addictive behaviour. Is Peppa Pig like crack to every child? That is not to say that I think TV is all bad. It provides much needed respite to get the dinner ready and she constantly surprises me with new words and concepts that she has picked up from TV. The shed is now a burrow. I guess as with everything in life moderation is key. She certainly seems happier when she has spent the morning playing make believe with her toys, painting or creating or playing outside than when she has just sat in front of the TV.

photo credit: <ahref="http://www.flickr.com/photos/11946169@N00/15797777191">Aggie Football & Popcorn</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/7149027@N07/3132070992">Are We Nearly There Yet?</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/">(license)</a>

[1] American Academy of Paediatricians, ‘Media and Children’, https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/pages/media-and-children.aspx, accessed 24 January 2016

[2] Dr Aric Signman, ‘Time for a View on Screen Time’, Archives of Disease in Childhood (8 October 2012), <http://adc.bmj.com/content/early/2012/09/04/archdischild-2012-302196.extract> accessed 24 January 2016,

[3] American Academy of Paediatricians, ‘Media and Children’, https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/pages/media-and-children.aspx, accessed 24 January 2016; The Department of Health, ‘Inactivity and Screen Time’ (2012), http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/gug-indig-hb~inactivitiy , accessed 24 January 2016

[4] Steve Connor, ‘Watching TV for three hours a day will not harm your children, parents told’, The Independent, 26 March 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/watching-tv-for-three-hours-a-day-will-not-harm-your-children-parents-told-8549131.html accessed 24 January 2016

[5] ‘Too much television turns children into monsters, British study finds’, Express, 26 March 2013, http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/386962/Too-much-television-turns-children-into-monsters-British-study-finds accessed 24 January 2016

[6] Alison Parkes, Helen Sweeting, Daniel Wight, Marion Henderson, ‘Do television and electronic games predict children’s psychosocial adjustment? Longitudinal research using the UK Millennium Cohort’, Archives of Disease in Childhood, 25 March 2013, <http://adc.bmj.com/content/98/5/341.full> , accessed 24 January 2016

[7] Linda S. Pagani, PhD; Caroline Fitzpatrick, MA; Tracie A. Barnett, PhD; Eric Dubow, PhD, ‘Prospective Associations Between Early Childhood Television Exposure and Academic, Psychosocial, and Physical Well-being by Middle Childhood’, JAMA Pediatrics, Vol 164, No 5 (3 May 2010), http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=383160, accessed 24 January 2016

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