TV time 'does not breed badly behaved children'


The study's lead author Dr Alison Parkes and Jane Gentle from Mumsnet discuss the findings

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Spending hours watching TV or playing computer games each day does not harm young children's social development, say experts.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) team who studied more than 11,000 primary school pupils says it is wrong to link bad behaviour to TV viewing.

Although researchers found a small correlation between the two, they say other influences, such as parenting styles, most probably explain the link.

But they still say "limit screen time".

This cautionary advice is because spending lots of time in front of the TV every day might reduce how much time a child spends doing other important activities such as playing with friends and doing homework, they say.

US research suggests watching TV in early childhood can cause attention problems at the age of seven.

Start Quote

We found no effect with screen time for most of the behavioural and social problems that we looked at and only a very small effect indeed for conduct problems, such as fighting or bullying”

End Quote Dr Alison Parkes Lead investigator

In the US, paediatric guidelines recommend that total screen time should be limited to less than two hours of educational, non-violent programmes per day. There are currently no formal guidelines in the UK.

For the MRC study, published in Archives of Diseases in Childhood, Dr Alison Parkes and colleagues asked UK mothers from all walks of life to give details about their child's TV viewing habits and general behaviour.

Electronic entertainment

Almost two-thirds (65%) of the 11,014 five-year-olds included in the study watched TV between one and three hours a day, 15% watched more than three hours and less than 2% watched no television at all.

Watching more than three hours' TV a day at this age predicted a very small increase in "conduct" problems at the age of seven.

After their seventh birthday, these boys and girls were slightly more likely to get into fights, tell lies or be bullies than their peers, according to their mothers' reports.

Time spent playing computer games bore no such relationship.

Child bullying Children may find it hard to talk about bullying

And there was no association between TV or any screen time and other issues such as hyperactivity or problems interacting with friends.

Dr Parkes, head of the MRC's social and public health sciences unit in Glasgow, said it was wrong to blame social problems on TV.

"We found no effect with screen time for most of the behavioural and social problems that we looked at and only a very small effect indeed for conduct problems, such as fighting or bullying.

"Our work suggests that limiting the amount of time children spend in front of the TV is, in itself, unlikely to improve psychosocial adjustment."

She said interventions focusing on the family dynamic and the child were more likely to make a difference and that much may depend on what children are watching and whether they were supervised.

Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology, at the London School of Economics, said the findings were a "good reason to ask why some children spend so much time watching television".

Prof Annette Karmiloff-Smith, of Birkbeck, University of London, said that rather than focusing on the possible adverse effects of TV and video games, it would be better to look at what positive impact they could have on children.

Prof Hugh Perry, chair of the MRC's neurosciences and mental health board, said: "We are living in a world that is increasingly dominated by electronic entertainment, and parents are understandably concerned about the impact this might be having on their children's wellbeing and mental health.

"This important study suggests the relationship between TV and video games and health is complex and influenced by many other social and environmental factors."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Really ?
    Remember when BBC followed ITVs format ?
    Experts - ten-a-penny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    Hmmm ... I'd like to see the statistics (if some proper research has been made public) on how many of the mass murders recently committed were by folk who had a big stash of violent gory films at home.

    I'm not saying everyone who watches these turns into a mass murderer, but some people are definitely influenced by the what they watch

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Too much TV is clearly linked with less reading ability...

    QUOTE: "Those children who had not achieved a reading age of over nine were unable to access the curriculum - and dealt with the problem by disrupting lessons or, in extreme cases, simply refusing to enter the classroom"


  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Kitten Whiskers

    These so called "experts" are idiots!

    TV and computer games should be banned for anyone under 18. Any parents that let their kids use these things are irresponsible
    Have you any basis for this statement or are you just spouting ill-informed, self-rightous opinion? These "experts" are so called because they have expertise. If you don't like what they say, prove its wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Healthy children are naturally curious & unruly. TV doesn't make them unruly but rather passive,distracted & compliant with a shorter attention span.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    The research has shown that it is unfounded to say that watching TV cause bad behavior. The underlying issues, or confounders if you will, all relate to parenting in which certain styles of parenting are correlated with both allowing children to watch more TV, and having more "unruly" children. The real challenge lies in making better parenting a norm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    I think if you ask Brian Cant , Toni Arthur, Tony Robinson, gemima and little ted...noggin the nog and capt may get a proper answer

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    My mother banned horror comics from the house, because she believed "findings" that linked them to disturbed children/violence etc. I used to sneak them in and read them anyway. Years later, the fears were proved groundless, and (surprise, surprise) I'm not an axe-wielding psychopath.

    The single biggest influence on kids behaviour is their peers, not their chosen form of entertainment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    Too much TV makes children passive consumers and screen addicts.
    Parents need to be parents and not busy achievers letting their children be swamped with TV dross to keep them docile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    It's disturbing how many people seem to dismiss research based on 11,000 children in favour of their own personal experience. Nobody is saying that everything is 100% black or white, only that no evidence was found of a direct causal link between the act of watching television and subsequent bad behaviour. This contrast with an earlier study is a helpful step - but only a step - in enlightening us

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    It may not make them badly behaved but it makes them inarticulate, incurious, undiscriminating and likely to take more nonsense on trust than is good for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    They are, by nature, born unruly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    147. Wandalust1956
    Everything in moderation people, everything in moderation. It's not rocket surgery...
    Research has shown that moderation can be good or bad for you, as long as you are moderate in your moderation but don't under or over do it.

  • Comment number 152.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    I don't like this blanket expression 'screen time'.

    An 8 hour session writing computer games or Raspberry Pi programs is a world apart from 8 hours of Jeremy Kyle & Facebook.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    Judging by the ratings for my last post, it would seem a lot of people do indeed believe a father is merely a mother's helper.


  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Most bad behaviour is caused by children not being properly disciplined - they do not understand the concept of doing what they are told and what is acceptable & non-acceptable behaviour. This has nothing to do with how much TV or computer time they have. It is poor parenting - period!
    Excessive TV and computer gaming in very young children is causing poor vocabulary, fine motor & social skills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    There are far too many Yank programs on kids tv now. They are all shooting their mouths off and giving their parents back mouth and our kids are doing the same because they watch so much of it. Our kids are even picking up the accent and talking like them. best part of the programs are'nt even educational. Why has there got to be so much Yank stuff on British TV any way? Can't WE even do that now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Everything in moderation people, everything in moderation. It's not rocket surgery...

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    I was brought up to respect my elders, neighbours, and people in authority, and not to point my finger at anyone who is "different". That was the norm.

    Today, politicians, tabloids, and some parents, believe it is right to point the finger at ever increasing groups of law abiding people and shout: "My problems are caused by you!"
    This culture of disrespect and blame is far more damaging than TV


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