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A recent article in the journal Pediatrics reported a study undertaken by a team of Seattle researchers that found concentrations problems in late childhood with children who had begun watching television at a very early age.
According to Dimitri Christakis, lead researcher and director of the Child Health Institute at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, it could be that television viewing at a critical age may interfere with normal cognitive development.
"In contrast to the way real life unfolds and is experienced by young children, the pace of TV is greatly sped up...The developing child's brain would begin to think of that level of stimulation as normal, when in fact it 's decidedly not normal of natural." Christakis explained that a child whose brain developed in front of a TV may have trouble later on when expected to concentrate on something which is less visually stimulating such as reading a book.
The study lead the researchers to conclude that for every hour of television viewed per day before age 3, children were 10 percent more likely to have trouble paying attention by age 7. So if a child under the age of 3 watched two hours of television a day he of she was 20 percent more likely to have attention problems at age 7 than a child who never watched television.
Parents filled out anonymous questionnaires for about 1,300 children at ages 1, 3 and 7. The data was collected from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a federal survey that has tracked children's behavior for more than two decades. With the younger aged children parents were asked to report on how many hours a day their children watched television. The parents later responded to a list of five questions about their child's ability to focus.
Although past studies have found associations between TV viewing and decreased attention spans in children, for the most part these studies have focused on school-age children. Even after accounting for other variables that may impact concentration such as depressed parents, prenatal substance abuse and socioeconomic status the results were consistent with greater concentration impairment associated with increases in TV exposure in children under 2.
The study did not provide information on which shows the children were watching and whether or not educational television was included. "The underlying hypothesis was not about the content of television but the rapidity of scene change," Christakis said. "The rapid scene may be brain candy of some kind but, like candy, in excess it can be potentially damaging."
A recent study by the Kaiser family Foundation found that 26 percent of children younger than 2 have televisions in their rooms and 36 percent of families leave the television on almost all of the time, even when no one is watching. The researchers ask whether early TV viewing is precluding toddlers from getting other stimuli necessary for normal brain development. And, as child psychologist Jane Healy writes, "Also in question is whether the insistent noise of television in the home may interfere with the development of 'inner speech,' by which a child learns to think through problems and plans and restrain impulsive responding."
1) Davidow, Julie. "Television May Drive Kids To Distraction." Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 5 April 2004
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