Good Children's TV Matters

Positive TV program viewing in children led to better behavior assessments

(RxWiki News) It may be unavoidable for children to watch a lot of TV. But watching the right programs, with positive behaviors and less violence, can make a difference on kids' behavior.

A recent study demonstrated this link between positive TV programs and positive behavior with an experiment between two groups of children.

The children of parents who were given information about positive TV programs scored a little higher on positive behavior scales after a year, compared to children of parents who were given nutritional information instead.

Both groups watched about the same amount of TV, but children of parents who received viewing recommendations watched less violence overall.

"Encourage kids to watch better TV shows."

The study, led by Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH, of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, aimed to see whether changing what kids watched on TV had an impact on how they acted.

The researchers recruited 565 parents whose children were aged 3 to 5, and then they split the parents into two groups.

One group was educated about the importance of replacing violence or age-inappropriate TV content with more educational programs or programs showing positive behaviors, such as sharing.

The parents were also encouraged to watch TV with their children, and they received a monthly mailing with program suggestions of recommended programs for their children, such as Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer.

This parent media education was based on a great deal of past research that shows children will imitate the positive and negative behaviors they see on screen.

The other group of parents were provided with information on healthier eating habits for children, including monthly mailings on food recommendations, but was given no information about TV programs.

Both groups were given case managers who called monthly to check in with and coach parents throughout a full year. Neither group was given instructions regarding how much TV a child should or shouldn't watch.

At the start of the study, halfway through and at the end of a year, the children were assessed with a psychology tool for their behaviors. The assessment measured their levels of anxious, depressed, angry and aggressive behaviors.

The children in both groups watched about the same amount of television at the start and end of the study. They also had about similar levels of violence exposure on TV at the start of the study.

However, at the end of the study, the children in the nutrition group watched more violence (about 6.8 minutes more per day compared to only 0.3 minutes more per day in the TV intervention group).

The children in the group receiving information on TV programs also watched more positive programming (10 minutes versus 2 minutes) overall and as a percentage of their total TV watching time.

The behavior assessments showed slight improvements in depression, anxiety, aggression and related behaviors among the children who watched more positive TV shows.

These effects were small overall, though they were largest among boys from low-income backgrounds. The researchers regarded the intervention as successful in affecting children's behavior.

"An intervention to reduce exposure to screen violence and increase exposure to prosocial programming can positively impact child behavior," they wrote.

The study was published February 18 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by National Institute for Child Health and Development through the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 16, 2013