Feb 19 Upping the educational value of what
young children watch on television and choosing to avoid
violence-prone programming may help improve their behavior,
according to a U.S. study that looked at several hundred
It can be hard to encourage families of preschoolers to turn
off the television, but there are plenty of high-quality shows
that promote learning and positive relationships rather than
violence, researchers wrote in Pediatrics.
"Although clearly kids watch too much, equally concerning is
that they watch poor quality shows," said lead researcher
Dimitri Christakis, from the University of Washington in
His initial survey of parents of three- to five-year-old
children showed the children often watched everything from
aggression-laden cartoons to full-length violent movies that are
"totally inappropriate," Christakis told Reuters Health.
For their study, he and his colleagues randomly split 565
preschools into two groups. In one group, parents recorded notes
about the children's normal TV viewing, without receiving any
guidelines to reduce or change those habits.
In the other group, researchers made visits and calls and
sent monthly newsletters encouraging parents to replace violent
TV with educational programming - including specific program
schedules and recommended shows, such as Sesame Street, Dora the
Explorer and Curious George.
"It's not just about reducing the exposure to on-screen
violence, it's about promoting pro-social programming,"
Christakis said. "We're actually them examples of good behavior,
of how to cooperate, how to share."
After six an 12 months, parents reported their children's
angry, aggressive or anxious behaviors on a questionnaire. At
both time points, children in the TV intervention group had
slightly fewer problems than those in the comparison group.
Low-income boys seemed to benefit most from the change in
"The point is, this is something that is as effective as
other things we do to try to modify behavior in children, and
it's fairly simple," Christakis said.
But other researchers said that not all studies have shown
violent programming leads to aggression and behavioral problems,
and that the new study doesn't shut the door on that question.
Another study published in Pediatrics found that the more
television that children and teens watched, the more likely they
were to have a criminal conviction or be diagnosed with
antisocial personality disorder by age 26.
Researchers led by Lindsay Robertson from the Dunedin School
of Medicine in New Zealand said children may imitate or
internalize violence they see - or that more time in front of
the television could simply mean less interaction with peers and
families, and worse performance in school.
However, it was unclear from that study whether the
television watching itself caused the problems.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children
watch no more than one to two hours of high-quality programming
each day, and researchers agreed that parents should be mindful
of exactly what their children are watching.
"It's not just about turning the TV off, it's about changing
the channel," Christakis said.
SOURCE: bit.ly/Vr8wqt and bit.ly/Xkt5Ct
(Reporting from New York by Genevra Pittman at Reuters Health;
editing by Elaine Lies)