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02nd Mar 2017

Watching TV for more than two hours a day linked to lower school readiness skills

Alison Bough

Research shows that watching television is negatively associated with early academic skills and drops in school readiness, particularly among low-income children.

A study by New York University’s School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, has found that watching television for more than a couple of hours a day is linked to lower school readiness skills in preschool-aged children, particularly among children from low-income families.

Researchers say that the findings, published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioural Paediatrics, reinforce the need for limits on screen time, such as those laid out by the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP). In 2001, the AAP recommended that children over the age of two watch no more than two hours of television per day. The updated guidelines, published last October, now recommend that children between two and five watch no more than one hour of television.

Andrew Ribner, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Applied Psychology at NYU, and the study’s lead author, says children are engaging in more and more screen time,

“Given that studies have reported that children often watch more than the recommended amount, and the current prevalence of technology such as smartphones and tablets, engaging in screen time may be more frequent now than ever before.”

Although previous research has shown that watching television is negatively associated with early academic skills, little is known about how economic status influences television viewing and child development. Ribner and his colleagues looked at data from 807 preschoolers of diverse backgrounds. Their parents reported family income, as well as the number of hours of television their children watch on a daily basis. Video game, tablet, and smartphone use were not included in the measurement.

Children were assessed using measures of mathematics, knowledge of letters and words, social-emotional skills, and others that are viewed as essential for school readiness. The researchers found that the number of hours of television young children watch is related to decreases in their school readiness, particularly their maths skills. This association was strongest when children watched more than two hours of television. Interestingly, a similar link was not found with letter and word knowledge. In fact, the researchers speculate that television programming, especially educational programmes for children, may actually work to improve literacy among young children.

As family incomes decreased, the link between television watching and drops in school readiness grew, meaning children from low-income families are hurt more by watching too much television. While the study did not measure the type of content the children watched, the researchers note that children in higher-income homes may be watching more educational programming and less entertainment, which has been found in other studies.

In addition, more affluent parents may be more likely to watch television with their children – offering explanations and promoting discussion – based on having more time and resources. Co-author Caroline Fitzpatrick of Canada’s Université Sainte-Anne, recommends that efforts be made to reinforce screen-time guidelines,

“Our results suggest that the circumstances that surround child screen time can influence its detrimental effects on learning outcomes.”

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