Toddler TV Time Can Cause Attention Problems
Study Shows, Two Hours a Day Leads to Difficulty Concentrating
April 5, 2004 -- Tempting as it might be to do so, using the
television to "baby-sit" 1- to 3-year-olds increases the possibility
that the baby will have attention problems in school, according to results of a
new study of more than 2,500 children.
Child development experts have been worried about kids and TV
for decades and the American Academy of Pediatrics is already on record in
favor of limiting toddler TV time, but the study from researchers at the
University of Washington Child Health Institute in Seattle offers the first
scientific evidence linking television exposure to attention problems. Dimitri
A. Christakis, MD, MPH, tells WebMD that a 3-year-old who watches TV for two
hours a day "has a 20% increased risk for attention problems at age 7
compared with a child who doesn't watch any TV."
Christakis says that the risk increases as TV watching
increases so that "for each additional hour of television watched, the risk
is increased by almost 10%."
Moreover, he says that the TV may increase the risk for
attentional problems because television images change rapidly, "which is an
important contrast to the pace of real life," he says. He notes that even
some well-respected children's programs - such as Sesame Street -- are
specifically designed to rely on rapid fire images to keep a young child's
In the study Christakis and colleagues used data collected from
the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a study sponsored by the U.S.
Department of Labor. The survey collects data on family background, home
environment, and health. Mothers were asked to estimate television watching
time on a typical weekday. Television data were available for 1,278 children at
age 1 and 1,345 children at age 3, and data were collected again for both
groups at age 7. The researchers used a measurement tool called the Behavioral
Problems Index to identify children who had attention problems such as
difficulty concentrating, being easily distracted, impulsiveness, or
restlessness. He says that about 10% of the children had attention problems by
Megan Fox says many parents "start out with pretty strict
rules about TV." Fox, who is a stay-at-home mom with four children, tells
WebMD that her oldest daughter Sarah, now a third-grade student in Lakewood,
Ohio, "watched no TV." But the television rules softened somewhat when
Sarah was joined by Michael, age 8 and Anna, who will be 5 in August. When baby
Jack arrived two years ago, Megan decided that sometimes she had to "turn
on the TV so that I could get something done." Now, she says, Jack probably
sees about an hour of TV a day.
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Use Caution With Kids Under Age 2
Susan Buttross, MD, FAAP, who is a professor of pediatrics and
chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the University of
Mississippi in Jackson tells WebMD that Fox is probably pretty typical of most
parents. "We don't want to make any parent feel guilty," says Buttross
who is also a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "The fact
is that younger children in families are going to be exposed to TV."