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Too Much TV May Hamper Kids' Attention

Study: Children Who Watch Excessive TV May Be More Likely to Have Attention Problems as Teens
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 4, 2007 -- Kids who watch more than two hours of television per day may be more likely than other children to have attention problems as teens.

That news appears in September's edition of the journal Pediatrics.

The finding comes from a study of more than 1,000 children born and raised in New Zealand. First, psychologists tested and rated the children's attention at age 3 and 5 years.

When the kids were 5-11 years old, their parents reported how much TV the children watched on weekdays. When the kids were 13 and 15, they reported their own weekday TV time.

On average, the kids watched about two hours of TV per weekday from age 5-11, and they watched an extra hour of weekday TV as teens.

Any adolescent attention problems were noted by the teens themselves, as well as their parents and teachers.

TV and Teens' Attention

Watching more than the average amount of TV -- in childhood or adolescence -- was linked to teen attention problems, regardless of attention problems in early childhood.

The study doesn't prove that TV wrecks children's attention.

The researchers -- who included Carl Erik Landhuis, BA, and Robert John Hancox, PhD, of New Zealand's University of Otago -- couldn't control for all possible influences on the children's attention.

But Landhuis, Hancox, and colleagues note two theories about TV and children's attention.

"One explanation targets brain development in early childhood," write the researchers. That is, that watching television influences children's brain development.

"Another explanation is that life as it is portrayed on television, with its fast-paced editing and attention-grabbing techniques, makes reality seem boring by comparison," the researchers write.

"Hence, children who watch a lot of television may become less tolerant of slower-paced and more mundane tasks, such as school work."

The study doesn't show what types of programs the kids watched, so it's not clear whether TV shows' content makes a difference. The data also doesn't cover kids' TV time before age 5.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which publishes the journal Pediatrics, recommends that children younger than 2 get no "screen time," which includes TV and videos.

The AAP also advises limiting older kids to no more than two hours of quality TV and videos per day.

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