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Health & Parenting

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Violent TV May Lead to Antisocial Kids

Study Shows Watching TV Violence as a Preschooler May Lead to Later Antisocial Behavior
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 5, 2007 -- Watching too much violence on TV at a young age may lead to antisocial behavior later on.

A new study shows preschool boys who watched TV violence were more likely to develop antisocial behavior by ages 7 to 9 than those who watched nonviolent or educational television. But the same effect wasn't seen in girls.

Researchers say the results are significant because antisocial and aggressive behavior among young children is associated with violent behavior in older children.

In addition, they found that much of what was considered "children's television" programming actually contained a significant amount of violence.

Effect of TV Violence

In the study, published in Pediatrics, researchers analyzed information on 184 boys and 146 girls who whose parents were surveyed in 1997 when the children were between ages 2 and 5, and again five years later. The parents were surveyed about their child's television viewing habits and behavior at both times.

Researchers classified the television programs the children watched into three categories: educational, nonviolent entertainment, and violent entertainment.

The results showed preschool boys who watched violent television programs were four times more likely to display antisocial and aggressive behavior as children. No such association was found among girls or with other types of programming. Examples of popular educational television programs among preschoolers were Barney, Sesame Street, and Arthur. Nonviolent entertainment programs included Rugrats, basketball, and animated movies.

Researchers found many TV shows geared toward young children contained high levels of violence and were associated with antisocial behavior among boys; these shows included Power Rangers, football, Star Wars, Space Jam, and Spider-Man.

"Our findings confirm and extend findings of others that exposure to violence on screen can promote aggression in real life," write researcher Dmitri Christakis, MD, MPH, of the Child Health Institute at the University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues.

They say that while parents should limit TV viewing by young children as much as possible, the results suggest that substituting educational or nonviolent TV programming may help reduce the negative effects of TV violence on children.

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