New and surprising research about TV and kids

Analysis of a research study about TV and kids published online this month by the journal Pediatrics suggests that switching channels from violent TV shows to educational programs may improve preschoolers’ behavior, even without having them watch less.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician and researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and lead author of the study says, “It’s not just about turning off the television. It’s about changing the channel. What children watch is as important as how much they watch.”

The parents in the study periodically filled out questionnaires and TV-watching diaries measuring their child’s behavior after watching certain shows.  Half the parents were coached on getting their 3-5 year-old kids to watch non-violent, educational shows like “Dora the Explorer” and “Sesame Street” versus more violent programs like “Power Rangers.”  Other parents in the study were given advice on healthy eating instead.

The study showed that at six months, both groups behavior had improved, but there was a little more improvement in the group whose TV watching had been coached.

Low-income boys seemed to get the most short-term benefit from the TV viewing changes. Dr. Christakis says that “That’s important because they are at the greatest risk, both for being perpetrators of aggression in real life, but also being victims of aggression.”

One researcher not involved in the study was impressed that the influence of positive TV programs was the focus, rather than the impact of violent programs. “I think it’s fabulous that people are looking on the positive side. Because no one’s going to stop watching TV, we have to have viable alternatives for kids,” says Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston.


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