Every well child care visit (AKA physical) I have with toddlers and even on up to the teenagers, I spend a few minutes discussing screen time. And with screen time, I’m referring to television (TV) viewing, IPAD use, smart phone use, video games, etc. Now the research has shown that the average U.S. toddler watches about 4 hours a day of TV (way too high) and recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) want parents to limit that amount to no more than 2 hours per day. One of the many reasons for this recommendation is that there is research demonstrating that when TV viewing is limited in the 9-10 year olds, there is a positive association with reduced regression in these same children.
Now something I have also emphasized over the years is the content of what our children watch. I’ve reminded parents that children tend to emulate what they watch, so minimizing the violent and “sassy” shows will hopefully minimize that type of behavior in our children. And until recently, there hasn’t been much research to justify this mindset…just what appears to be common sense to me. But a research article to be published next month in Pediatrics
looked at the potential benefits of actually modifying and not just reducing what children watch.
So what the researchers did was create a randomized controlled study for children 3-5 years of age (where some participants received the intervention and others did not) and then compared the 2 groups to see if any benefits followed. The intervention group received in-home education tips at the beginning of the study then close follow up with phone calls and mailings to ensure there was adherence to the TV viewing changes. The control group did not receive these same tips. But again, the goal wasn’t to necessarily limit how much the children were watching but what exactly they were watching.
And the results?
Well, based on the use of an outcome evaluation form…the Social Competence and Behavior Evaluation…at 6 and 12 months, what was found was that overall behavior (in particular: aggressive, angry, and oppositional behavior) improved in the intervention group when compared to the control group at the 6 month testing. And of further note, it was found that low-income boys achieved the greatest benefit of these interventions.
So where do we go from here? Pretty straightforward, along with reducing the amount of TV viewing our children get on a daily basis, we need to monitor what they are watching as well. And even though this study didn’t focus in on the violent video games, I’d like to see it extend to this area of screen time as well.
- Dr. Jeremy
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