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Health & Parenting

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TV, Video Game Overload May Hurt Kids' Attention Span

Watching TV, Playing Video Games in Excess May Cause Attention Problems That May Persist Into Adulthood, Study Finds
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 6, 2010 -- Children who spend too much time playing video games and watching TV are more likely to have attention problems, a new study finds.

Excessive television viewing has long been associated with childhood attention problems, but researchers in Iowa and Minnesota say their study is one of the first to draw similar conclusions about video games.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents allow no more than two hours of screen time daily.

The new study is published online ahead of print in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers studied 1,323 children in the third, fourth, and fifth grades over a 13-month period, with their exposure to TV and video games reported by parents and the children themselves. Attention problems were reported by teachers.

They also examined a sample of 210 college students in late adolescence or early adulthood who also provided self-reports of TV exposure, video game play, and perceived attention problems.

Exposure to TV and video games was linked to greater attention problems. TV and video game exposure in the younger children was associated with increased later attention problems even when they took into account earlier attention problems.

The researchers say the younger children were nearly two times more likely to have “above average” reports of attention problems. The college students showed a similar association, and this suggests that TV or video game exposure may have lasting consequences.

“These similar associations across age groups raise an important possibility about the persistence of television or video game exposure effects on attention problems. Whatever the ages at which watching television or playing video games may increase attention problems, the consequences may be quite long lasting or cumulative," the authors write.

The researchers recommend that more study be done on screen-time risk factors that lead to attention problems.

“It has been hypothesized that most television shows are so exciting that children who frequently watch television have more difficulty paying attention to less exciting tasks,” such as doing school work, the authors write. “Others have hypothesized that because most television programs involve rapid changes in focus, frequent exposure to television may harm children’s abilities to sustain focus on tasks that are not inherently attention-grabbing.”

But the researchers say that many video games share features of TV that are thought to cause problems.

The researchers say their work suggests “that the risk could be reduced if parents followed the recommendation of the AAP to limit children’s exposure to television and video games to no more than two hours per day.”

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