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TV’s Influence Part 1 – Screen Time and Child Development

From the humble beginnings of the black and white television set with prescheduled shows to the modern, 24/7 online streaming platforms where practically any show is just a click of a button away, technology has made dramatic strides over the last century! Millions of homes across the globe are able to access some sort of digital screening gadget, that being a TV, a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone [1]. With these come numerous shows and games targeted for all age groups [1]! This has resulted in many parents and guardians choosing to use screening gadgets to occupy a portion of their child’s early years [1]. However, many have yet to fully realize the influences these early habits may have on their child’s development.


The argument for whether television viewing is harmful or not dates back to the 1940s, around its period of inception [1]. The medium’s effects on the new generation brought up alongside it quickly became a topic of discussion [1]. This eventuated in the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) sponsoring a study conducted by Rutgers University in 1949 [1]. The study stated that television viewing increased family bonding and unity and did not promote viewer passivity, and did not replace other valued diversions, such as outdoor activities and social interactions [1].


However, as the film industry progressed, so did the variety of shows and films made available to targeted audiences [1]. Violent scenes depicted in action films, for example, caused many to question the influence its exposure would have on young viewers [1].


So what actually counts as screen time? Screen time is commonly divided into television viewing, the use of computers, tablets, and smartphones [2]. Since the early 2000s, there has been a remarkable increase in screen time use, especially during the last decade. Alarmingly, about 92.2% of one-year-olds in a survey have already used a mobile device, some as early as four months old [3]! This has drawn a lot of concern since it is linked with adverse health consequences in children [2].


During the first two years of a child’s development, much of the child’s cognitive growth and development occurs [4]. That is why many behavioral scientists believe that too much screen time at this period would result in the exclusion of healthy activities and higher risks of associated problems later on in life [4]. It was also shown that young children found it difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction while watching television or other screening gadgets [4].


In an article released by WebMD, it stated that new studies showed that children who spend too much time watching TV and playing video games were more likely to develop attention problems [5]. In that study, more than 1,300 children in the third, fourth, and fifth grades were observed over a 13-month period [5]. A sample of 210 college students in late adolescence and early adulthood were also studied [5]. The study found that young children were nearly two times more likely to have “above average” reports of attention problems [5]. College students also showed similar results to the school children, indicating that the consequences of TV or video game exposure were long-lasting [5].


Many researchers have hypothesized that the exciting and fast-paced sequences in video games and television may leave children finding real-life boring and less engaging – hence difficulty in paying attention [5].


Another study carried out in 2007 aimed to identify whether childhood television viewing would lead on to attention problems later on in life as adolescence [6]. A sample size of 1037 participants was studied [6]. The results of this study concluded that childhood television viewing was associated with attention problems in adolescence [6]. This result was achieved after accounting for gender, attention problems in early childhood, cognitive ability at the age of 5, and their childhood socioeconomic status [6]. These further suggest that childhood television viewing may contribute to the development of attention problems and that the effects may be long-lasting [6].


Similar studies also show common attention problems including a short attention span, poor concentration, and being easily distracted [7]. Other studies have also associated prolonged screen time with lower cognitive abilities, especially related to short-term memory, early reading and math skills, and language development problems [8].


Since there are no proven benefits of media exposure for infants and toddlers, while at the same time posing developmental risks, researchers suggest that risks could be reduced if parents limited their children’s screen time exposure to no more than two hours per day for children above the age of two [5], [7].


When children do watch television programs or other screen time exposure, it is advised that parents also watch with them and also actively prioritize educational content and more real-time programs with normal scene changes [4], [7]. By carefully monitoring children’s screen time exposure, we may be able to reduce their chances of developing attention problems later on in life and thereby, improve their quality of life.


References


  1. M. C. Roberts, "Effects of television viewing on child development," Brittanica, [Online]. Available: https://www.britannica.com/topic/effects-of-television-viewing-1995158. [Accessed 7 January 2021].

  2. M. H. Leppanen, K. Saaksjarvi, H. Vepsalainen, C. Ray, P. Hiltunen, L. Koivusilta, M. Erkkola, N. Sajaniemi and E. Roos, "Association of screen time with long-term stress and temperament in preschoolers: results from the DAGIS study," European Journal of Pediatrics, vol. 179, no. 11, pp. 1805-1812, 2020.

  3. D. L. Hill, "Why to Avoid TV for Infants & Toddlers," HealthyChildren, 21 October 2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Why-to-Avoid-TV-Before-Age-2.aspx#:~:text=Good%20evidence%20suggests%20that%20screen,problems%20with%20sleep%20and%20attention.. [Accessed 10 January 21].

  4. B. M. C. Guru, A. Nabi and R. Raslana, "Role of Television in Child Development," Journal of Mass Communication & Journalism, vol. 3, no. 3, 2013.

  5. B. Hendrick, "TV, Video Game Overload May Hurt Kids' Attention Span," WebMD, 6 July 2010. [Online]. Available: https://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20100706/tv-videogame-overload-may-hurt-kids-attention-span. [Accessed 10 January 2021].

  6. C. E. Landhuis, R. Poulton, D. Welch and R. J. Hancox, "Does Childhood Television Viewing Lead to Attention Problems in Adolescence? Results from a Prospective Longitudinal Study," Pediatrics, vol. 120, no. 3, pp. 532-537, 2007.

  7. "Childhood TV viewing linked to teen attention problems," NewScientists, 4 September 2007. [Online]. Available: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12586-childhood-tv-viewing-linked-to-teen-attention-problems/. [Accessed 7 January 2021].

  8. Canadian Paediatric Society, "Screen time and young children: Promoting health and development in a digital world," Paediatrics & Child Health, vol. 22, no. 8, pp. 461-468, 2017.

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