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Health & Parenting

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Toddler TV Time Can Cause Attention Problems

Study Shows, Two Hours a Day Leads to Difficulty Concentrating


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.

Do you have trouble focusing? Take this quick quiz.

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."

But Buttross says the study by Christakis backs up the American Academy of Pediatrics statement on television, which urges parents to "exercise caution in letting children under age 2 watch television."

Buttross says that TV poses a problem because it is "a passive situation. If a child is looking at the TV and the child says a word or phrase to the TV, nobody reinforces that act." That reinforcement is crucial for children under age 3, says Buttross, because "so much speech and developmental behavior is learned during this period."

She says, too, that Christakis is probably on the right track with his concerns about the detrimental effect of rapid images. Buttross, who wasn't involved in the study, says that "parents tell me again and again that they can't understand how their children can spend hours playing a video game, yet those same children can't concentrate enough to read a book. But if you think about it, the attention needed to play a video is about three to five seconds, because then the situation changes." Buttross was not involved with the study.

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