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 265.

    This is absurd! It is not a question of trying to find the one to blame for a badly behaved children. It is a case of parenting which mean also sharing time with their children doing things that will give them in the future good memories. To nurture the child. TV is only full of bad programs, it is even difficult for parent to rule the bad stuff, once a child sees something it sticks...

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    1000 studies of television watching came to the same conclusion, with a latent period of 15 years, there is a direct connection between watching TV and societal violence (corrected for all other criteria). Controls were areas without TV coverage at the time of publishing. Dr Aric Sigmas book: Remotely Controlled Vermillion books 1995 ISBN: 978 0 09 190690 0

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    Why do we listen to psychologists. It is a pseudo science anyway and not empirical. It's just a load of speculation. It has contibuted as much to our social problems as TV itself. To say tv reflects life rather than influences it is like saying a man fell out a window because he died rather than vice-versa. When TV was strictly censored in the 60s we had far less social evils we than today. Fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    I limit my 10 year old's child's tv as much as possible, he does play on the xbox but he also has so many hours' of play, he also plays football for a team and is top in his class at school so am not really worried about him.

    It makes parents unruly when it comes to hogging the remote I know that!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    No, of course TV doesn't affect behaviour.

    That's why those multinational corporations don't spend millions of pounds a year on TV advertising.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    But it does prepare them to exist as a function of hegemony.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.


    Movies don't create psychos, they make psycho's more creative


  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    It is not the TV so much, it is the parents they need to be in control more. Don't forget you as a parent you are the BOSS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    What an awful way to conduct a piece of research!

    "Dr Alison Parkes and colleagues asked UK mothers..."

    Whether you think the findings ring true or not, asking mothers how much TV their children watch and how they behave subsequently is about as useful as asking smokers how many a day they think they smoke and then basing your health strategy on it.

    Let's have some science here please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    I went to a meeting at my local school recently where one of the teachers told us that a German 'expert' had written a book on this exact subject. He stated that primary school children should not watch more than 15 min TV a day.
    The news didn't go down well!

    Kids need variety. AND some programmes are educational!
    NB: how can the researchers measure if the mothers in this study are being honest?

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    I do not have any negative or positive comment on this news, but I just want to give some examples of me and my brother. Firstly, when I watch TV programs very much(at least 3-4 hours per day), I feel as if my brain function got lost.Secondly, whenever my bro plays a computer game, he always become very nervous and aggressive against us. Comment is up to you !

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    Kids watching TV? What a story!

    Just as David Miliband resigns. It wasn't that long ago that his brother was welcoming him to his cabinet. I guess David's decision will reflect badly on Labour -

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    252.Auf Wiedersehen Pet

    I don't actually own a T.V. I haven't for about 7 years now. You asked what worse and I told you. Why do you assume my answer refelects my character. In honesty it does, I was being facetious. You misuderstood what I meant in post 235 I should have directed you to post 237 which clarifies what I meant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.


    You are revealing too much about what goes on in your head

    ... and probably about the kind of films you have been watching.

    I will pray for you before I go up for my shower this evening.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    250.Auf Wiedersehen Pet

    "What's "worse" than being a psychotic killer?"

    A psychotic genocidal totalitarian dictator who only eats cute fluffy white bunnies for breakfast before moving on to kittens for lunch and puppies for dinner with the fresh blood of babies to wash it down with?

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.


    How many hours do you spend in the bath? In fact nevermind, that's way too personal a question to be asking.


    Irony, Golgotha, irony.
    I don't bath.
    Mrs Wiedersehen does.
    I shower.
    Very quickly
    So I can get back and check what the kids are watching on TV

    But it takes me hours to mow the lawn ....

    P.S. 235. What's "worse" than being a psychotic killer?

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.


    "its a phrase Golgotha. Not that you literally had no knowledge. i.e., Before you know it, some one was contrary and unnecessary on a BBC comment page."

    I see. Sincerely, I do apologise. I like your example by the way. Excuse me while I go and get something to sooth the burn . +1 for sure. ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    I've been watching far too much TV lately, mostly BBC news ...

    .. now I'm speaking in ever increasingly inane soundbites, distracted from my real work by ooohing and aaahing at snowdrifts, obsessing about my body image, getting neurotic about what and what not to eat, and I'm beginning to believe the only sane, reasonable, rational, trustworthy people left in this world are news anchors!

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    244.Auf Wiedersehen Pet

    "So how do you keep an eye on your kids while you are in the bath? :-)"

    How many hours do you spend in the bath? In fact nevermind, that's way too personal a question to be asking.

  • Comment number 246.

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


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