The drivers with the “Kill Your Television” bumper stickers may be right—if your child is under 3. In July researchers at the University of Washington announced the results of a study that tracked harmful effects from toddler TV viewing.
The UW study found that toddlers spending more than two hours in front of the television each day scored lower on reading and short-term memory tests when they were 6 or 7.
“Television is not inherently good or bad—it’s how you use it,” Health Services Professor Frederick Zimmerman told the Seattle Times when the study was released. Zimmerman and Pediatrics Professor Dimitri Christakis analyzed data on 1,797 children gathered over a six-year period. The two are co-directors of the UW’s Child Health Institute.
They found that some TV viewing after age 3 may be good. “Television viewing at ages three to five years has a more beneficial effect, at least for the outcomes of reading recognition and short-term memory,” they wrote. But, they added, there was no beneficial effect on mathematics or reading comprehension.
In preparing their study, the UW professors took into account other factors that may influence a child’s learning, such as the mother’s education or her IQ.
Zimmermann said it is unclear whether watching television is itself detrimental to cognitive development, or that it merely pulls toddlers away from activities that further learning. He added that their next research project will investigate possible causes for these lags in learning.
Three- to 5-year-old children watch an average of two or more hours of TV or videos per day and much of this is not children’s educational programming, according to the authors. Fifty-nine percent of children younger than two regularly watch an average of 1.3 hours of television per day, despite the fact that there is no programming of proven educational value for children this young, they added.
The study was published in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The same issue cited two other TV studies. One found that the more television teenagers watched in the middle of the week, the more likely they were to drop out of college. The other found that putting a TV set in the rooms of third-graders lowered their scores on standardized tests.*Illustration by Lydia Hess.