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 205.

    Let's take a step back. Whether it is watching TV or doing any other activity, does this study pretend that an activity that children do for 1 to 3 hours a day does not affect the way they behave? Maybe we're all born with a predetermined behavior? Does not look very serious to me. Of course, watching TV daily will affect children and of course it will depend of the TV programs being watched.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    83. Tony Hannibal
    Young boys thinking their Jack Bauer"

    Well, it's called role play. Kids do it. Kids have always done it. When I was young it was 'cowboys & indians' or WW2 soldiers or whatever. I'm sure in the middle ages, boys pretended to be knights on horseback. Now they pretend to be Jack Bauer.

    Same old same old.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    As ever when a proper study has been carried out by experts, months if not years of painstaking work, results rigorously analysed et al.

    What do the "great" British public do? Disclaim the result without even the slightest attempt to offer up a counter argument/analysis.

    & to hell with the facts, gut instinct will do huh - no wonder this country is in such a mess, the public are idiots....

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    I think that the sheer power over public consciousness is so strong that really there isn't a report with any backing in the public arena that would ever say anything different.

    Control is the name of the game be it Government, business, parenting - without TV, children would freely do as children do and to enjoy their lives.

    We simply cannot have that in a modern society now can we.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Experts say watching TV or playing computer games does not harm children's social development.
    Hours spent in a solitary pursuit, without inter acting with other children or adults, MUST harm social development.
    I hope taxpayers are not paying for those so called experts. If we are save money; sack them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Of course kids will be angry when you stop them watching TV. How would you like it if somebody came in and made you stop doing something you were enjoying for spurious reasons?

    It just adds to the feeling of powerlessness, which is very frustrating for a child. If you really want to see sparks, tell the child that the righteous anger they feel at having been deprived is 'because they're tired'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    TV time 'does not breed badly behaved children' - no bad parenting does.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Parents letting kids watch programs for the wrong age group can cause behavioural issues. Point in case: my youngest nephew was exposed to CBBC because his brother is 4yrs older.

    Not sure what programs are on there, but the youngest now thinks it's OK to clatter people and generally cause pain.

    Parents realised too late. The damage is done as the poor lad is a real handful now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    @135 "If parents make sure that their children are watching well made and sensible programs"

    Im sorry what programs are these? The no violence nice and kind world type shows?

    I grew up with Dragonball Z, Pokemon, Digimon all violent shows but had moral's in their stories so they could teach and stay entertaining.

    These days it's just "Be friends and love each other and always be nice".


  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    YES - it does - IF Children are allowed tp spend TOO long watching TV OR playing computer games..
    Such excessive use of Media - and LACK of family interaction is extremely bad for them.

    Put basically - Children can be practically brainwashed into believing that such Media is reality.

    Especially the one-sided Dogma from OUR Broadcast Media...

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Yes some TV is bad for children and some is the fault of parents but some kids will show off if they cant see what they claim the rest of their class see.
    The general standards of most TV is very low adults and children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    When it comes to bringing up children there are no experts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Anyone up for a thesis on "The accumulative effect of 24-hr bummers on the british psyche"?
    'Our media' has a great deal to answer for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    When are these 'experts' going to make their minds up. Once week its one thing the next another. Why do we waste all this money on these useless conflicting research projects?

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Children may be allowed to watch TV educational programs or play non-violent video games for entertainment and mind culture but for a limited time e.g. maximum two hours a day.

    On the contrary they may spoil their devotion of time towards study and playing games among their age-groups. Thus they will grow up as active and intelligent people of the society.

    - A.R.Shams's Reflection

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Depends what they watch! with all the obscene and violent programs available today and unless parents are continually monitoring their children they will have access to this material , You do not have to do research to know that will have some kind of effect

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    Obviously watching TV hasn't done anything to improve Dr Alison Parkes's command of English grammar either, despite her high profile as an "expert".

    Just for the record, it should be "effect ON problems" not "effect FOR problems". We are in the UK, not the USA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    These so-called 'experts' might have more expertise in pitching for more research funding than they have in medical or educational matters. As we've seen in other fields, 'experts' and 'scientists' often don't have expertise in the specific subject being reported, & very often get things wrong or conflict with other 'experts'.
    Time we stopped handing out so much public money to keep them in jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    TV time 'does not breed badly behaved children'

    Course not - they aren't gonna copy de dik and de dom in de ouse an all de wiggy wiggy init? More sunni-deelite pleeze - I buy anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    I've got a mate who spent hours and hours on XBOX playing Call of Duty ....

    ... now he's got a nice armchair job piloting drones and he blows up real people in other countries


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