Turning the channel can impact a child’s behavior from bad to good
Past studies have revealed that preschool-aged children imitate both aggression and prosocial behaviors on screen but there have been limited population-based studies devised to reduce aggression in preschool-aged children by modifying what they watch according to the study’s abstract from researchers at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington.
For this study, researchers had parental assistance in substituting high quality prosocial and educational programming for aggression-laden programming without trying to reduce total screen time.
This randomized controlled trial involved 565 parents of preschool-aged children ages 3 to 5 years recruited from community pediatric practices. The children were divided into two groups with all parents tracking their child’s television viewing in a diary that researchers evaluated for violence, educational and prosocial content such as displaying empathy, helping others and resolving arguments without the use of violence.
For the two groups; the control group had only received dietary habits for children. The other group of parents received program guides emphasizing positive shows for young children such as “Dora the Explorer” instead of shows such as the “Power Rangers” and received newsletters that encouraged parents to watch television with their children and to ask questions during the program about the best ways to deal with conflict.
Researchers compared the results of both groups at six and twelve months.
At six months both groups had showed behavior improvement with the coached group being slightly more. At the one year mark there was little difference between the two groups and low-income boys appeared to get the most short-term benefit.
Prior to the study on average watched about 1 ½ hours of television, videos and computer games with violent content being present about one quarter of that time. At the end of study, television viewing increased by up to ten minutes. Those in the coaching had increased their time with positive shows but those who just received advice on dietary habits had an increase in violent shows.
The researchers write in their conclusion “An intervention to reduce exposure to screen violence and increase exposure to prosocial programming can positively impact child behavior.”
Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH, professor, Director, Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, Center for Child Health, Behavior and Child Development, at Seattle Children’s Hospital and lead author of study stated “The take-home message for parents is it’s not just about turning off the TV; it’s about changing the channel.” “We want our children to behave better, and changing their media diet is a good way to do that.”
Researchers note this study had limitations. Information on children’s television habits and behavior was reported by parents, who may not be objected plus the study focused on television viewing in the home however, some preschool-aged children are exposed to programming elsewhere.
Dr. Christakis in closing comments "All television is educational. The question is, what is it teaching?"
The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.
In 2007, Dr. Christakis and Dr. Frederick Zimmerman, PhD, both of Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the University of Washington School of Medicine, had found watching violent television at pre-school age is linked to aggression and anti-social behaviors in boys when they reach the age of seven to nine. That study was also published in the journal Pediatrics.
More information on children and television can be viewed at the University of Michigan Health System website.