By Thaddeus M. Baklinski
AMES, Iowa, July 6, 2010 (LifeSIteNews.com) - Researchers at Iowa State University have found that watching television and playing video games are both associated with increased subsequent attention problems in childhood, and that these problems may persist into late adolescence and early adulthood.
The research was published on July 5 in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Television viewing has long been associated with greater subsequent attention problems in children.
The researchers recognized that few studies have examined the possibility of a similar association between video games and attention problems, and that none of these had used a longitudinal design.
A sample of 1323 middle childhood participants were assessed during a 13-month period by parent- and child-reported television and video game exposure as well as teacher-reported attention problems.
Another sample of 210 college students provided self-reports of television exposure, video game exposure, and attention problems.
Lead author Edward Swing, a psychology doctoral candidate, and co-author Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State U., said their study found that children who exceeded the recommended two hours per day of screen time were one and a half to two times more likely to have attention problems in the classroom.
The Canadian Paediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) both urge parents to limit screen time for children to one to two hours per day.
However, studies on TV viewing and computer use have found that most children between eight and 18 spend an average of eight hours per day in front of a screen.
“There isn’t an exact number of hours when screen time contributes to attention problems, but the AAP recommendation of no more than two hours a day provides a good reference point,” said Edward Swing, adding that, “Most children are way above that. In our sample, children’s total average time with television and video games is 4.26 hours per day, which is actually low compared to the national average.”
“We had the teachers rate every child in the study on a number of things, including their school performance, their aggressive behavior and their pro-social behavior, as well as their attention problems,” Dr. Gentile said.
Gentile said the results of the study were conclusive and revealing.
“In just one year, we would see attention problems in the classroom getting worse related to how much time kids are in front of television and video games,” he explained.
The study concluded that the association of television and video games to attention problems in the middle childhood sample remained significant when earlier attention problems and gender were statistically controlled, and that the associations of screen media and attention problems were similar across media type (television or video games) and age (middle childhood or late adolescent/early adult).
Dr. Gentile said that while research on potential risk factors for attention problems should be expanded to include more research into video games and internet use, parents can help their children now by limiting all forms of daily screen time.
“This demonstrates that parents probably aren’t nearly as powerless as they might feel. Here might be a first thing that they can do that might help their children, so that the problem doesn’t get worse and they don’t need medication some day,” he said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Public Education has specific recommendations on how to limit screen time for children that include avoiding all TV for children under age two, as well as keeping the TV off during meals, keeping TVs out of bedrooms and sleeping areas, setting “media-free” days and planning other fun things to do, and turning off the TV when a chosen program is over.
An abstract of the study, titled "Television and Video Game Exposure and the Development of Attention Problems" is available here.
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