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 185.

    British 'Soaps' do nothing more than inform and indoctrinate children with the knowledge that most of the British public are moronic in their low level of interest in aught-else. How many British programmes are about happiness and the joy of having a life! All I see is misery, and moronic behaviour projected at all levels within that media.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    "...what possible good would come from watching a game show ?
    Most of this knowledge is dross."

    QI and The Unbelievable Truth at least prompted me to try and look things up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    TV doesn't breed unruly kids, parents do. The electronic babysitter is no subsitute for a parent's attention and guidance.

    Banning all TV is a bit of an over-reaction, children's shows like Sesame Street don't promote unruly behavior in children. Maybe we should ban them from watching sports, there's nothing like a bunch of football hooligans or brawling hockey players to set a bad example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    I used to watch loads of TV and play lots of computer games, I did also play football a lot, but only in the summer.

    I know run a computer games company, didn't do me any harm. Just make sure it not all your kids do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Rubbish, My son copies things on TV and also he attitude changes when he plays on games consoles. For that reason his use is restricted - Everthing in moderation.

    Just a shame TV adverts are not age certified as some of the kids channels should not be showing some of the adverts they do until after the kids are in bed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    I witnessed the social changes that occured during 35 yrs and the effects they had on the ability of teachers to engage children. I don't know what kind of lobbying of these MRC people has taken place on behalf of the industry or the government but I will personally eat every hat in my local milliner's shop if the rubbish that children are exposed to on adult TV does not affect them negatively.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.


    Most experts seem to me to know nothing about nothing; & those that do...know very little about nothing!

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Another 'Oh yes it does' 'Oh no it doesn't' topic.
    Please, guys. Raise the quality. If you're going to write 'This is true', support it with evidence. What you think happens next door isn't evidence. What you hope is true, probably isn't. Evidence - data collected impartially.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    If we give these experts even more money may we discuss what sort of tv is being watched ?
    Sorry I know we can't afford it austerity HS2 and all that.
    BS UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    So we've established its not TV, but no one dares to state the obvious, which is that it is parents who fail to control their kids that makes them badly behaved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    What good is it knowing about the latest celebrity gossip or fashion and what possible good would come from watching a game show ?
    Most of this knowledge is dross.

    Kids (and in fact everyone) would be better spending their time learning something useful or doing overtime at work (even for half pay).

    Have you noticed that computer games obliterate many a boys education ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Why on earth would BBC promote that TV is bad for children when TV is their medium of approaching all their audience. I have seen many people who watch lot of TV lack creativity. Many of my friends that wached a lot of TV ended up in wrong Jobs(often low standard) though they are educated to a good standard but because they cannot bother giving up their TV watching time to look for better jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Perhaps I was lucky - I didn't have to watch too much television when I was a kid, we didn't own one until I was 4. Anyway I would much rather have been "out" playing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    164. Auf Wiedersehen Pet You cannot blame Videos or games for society's problems, those scapegoats were dispelled during the release of previously banned Horror films (video nasties) after the BBFC stopped treating people like children. What causes children to be unruly? Who knows bad parents, bad role models (footballers and such) no one knows but to blame certain media for it is wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    It may not make them unruly, but I'm sure it doesn't improve their manners! "Please" and "Thank You" are seldom heard on TV. Americanisation of grammar and speech mangle perfectly good conversations, making no room for politeness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Stating the obvious, again. Tv, gaming, is harmless. If anything the nasty 'pop' culture has far more to answer for. Bad examples of behaviour and language, lauded and enriched beyond dreams for inanity. Yes gaming does add competition for time used on other older activities we did when we had nothing else to do. Parental control is all. Schools a far worse influence on children than tv/games.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Where do I have to apply to become an "expert", please?

    Money for old rope.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Isn't it obvious that disobedient unruly children are the direct result of bad/lazy parents??

    All these other "coincidences" tend to revert back to either bad or lazy parenting!

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    142.Old Father Thames
    Parents should not use... ...any... ...electronic device as a way of keeping their kids occupied for long periods of time.

    This is not parenting. This is laziness.

    Couldn't agree more.

    It also doesn't help that the media give such lazy parents air time - like the family a few weeks ago who incurred a huge bill due to their kid running up a debt on an iTunes app.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    139. simon_s
    "I think a lot has to do with the Parents. I was allowed to play Video Games whenever I liked as long as I did my homework and helped aound the house. I remember watching violent horror movies with my brothers too. I turned out just fine thanks to a good solid upbringing. Unfortunatley this seems to be a rare thing these days."

    This guy's got it. Good parenting is all!


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