Want to predict how well your child will do in school, how likely he is to be overweight and whether or not he will be picked on by bullies? Then look no further than your household’s television set.
A new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine suggests that the more time a toddler spends in front of the tube, the more likely he or she is to have problems in school, with weight and with being bullied.
In a study that followed more than 1,300 children, researchers asked parents to document how much television their children were watching at around age 2 1/2 and then again around 4 1/2. When this same group of kids reached the age of 10, their families were asked to complete a series of questionnaires looking at various factors, such as math scores, classroom behaviours and soft drink consumption.
The researchers, who work at the Université de Montréal, Ste. Justine University Hospital Research Centre and the University of Michigan, analyzed the information and discovered that there are long-term, negative consequences for kids who watch too much TV. Although other studies had indicated a connection between school performance and TV viewing, the researchers were very surprised to see that TV viewing at such a young age predicted negative outcomes in so many areas so many years later.
For example, 10-year-olds who watched television as toddlers, compared to those who didn’t, showed poorer math skills, were less physically active, had higher Body Mass Index (which is one measure of weight), and a 10 per cent increase in the likelihood of being victimized by schoolyard bullies.
Early childhood is a critical time in a child’s life, when connections are being made in the rapidly growing brain and the child is learning patterns of behaviour, according to lead author Dr. Linda S. Pagani, a psychosocial professor at the Université de Montréal and researcher at the Ste. Justine University Hospital Research Centre.
This research seems to confirm that high levels of TV viewing during this important period can lead to unhealthy habits and possibly problems in later childhood and beyond.
As Dr. Pagani notes, both the Canadian Pediatric Society and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend no more than one to two hours of television viewing per day for young children. In fact, the American group recommends no TV at all for children under 2. Yet parents continue to let their youngsters watch TV, despite these guidelines.
This research differs from many other smaller-scale studies on this subject because it looked at the same group of Quebec children at age 2 and then at age 10. When analyzing their data, the researchers took into account other factors that could be assumed to have an impact, such as the child’s temperament and the family socio-economic status.
Dr. Pagani says researchers were surprised that the fallout from toddlers’ TV time was so long-lasting. “Our findings make a compelling public health argument against excessive TV viewing in early childhood,” she said.