We've all heard the warnings about TV time for kids: Introduced too early it can have a negative impact on your children's development, allowed too often and their behavior, attention spans and even waistlines may suffer.
A new study, however, takes a different approach to the hot topic of kids and television.
"We often focus on how much kids watch and don't focus enough on what they watch," says Dr. Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Research Institute and the study's author. "While too many children watch too much TV, this study shows that content is as important as quantity."
Dr. Christakis' team studied 565 families with children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old. Half of these families received a "media diet intervention," receiving advice on how to substitute violent programs like Power Rangers for "prosocial and educational" ones such as Dora the Explorer, Imagination Movers, and Sesame Street. The other half, those in the control group, didn't receive this guidance.
(Confession: My gut reaction to this premise was, 'Why is a 3-year-old watching anything but prosocial and educational shows?' Then I guiltily remembered how my own standards have slipped since having my second child. At 2 years old, she already knows the theme song to her older sister's favorite show, Spongebob Squarepants. If you've ever seen Spongebob, 'educational' probably isn't the first word that pops to mind.)
The families who took part in this study remained in regular contact with the researchers for a year after the media intervention diet was introduced and "the children in the intervention group demonstrated significantly less aggression and more prosocial behavior compared to the control group, and the effect lasted throughout the 12 months."
"It's not just about turning off the television. It's about changing the channel," concludes Dr. Christakis. He urges all parents to stage a similar media diet intervention by keeping a diary to track what kids are viewing, choosing less violent programming and watching alongside their children so that they're aware of show content.
I usually brace myself for bad news when I read studies on TV time, but this one actually helps ease my guilty conscience. Like most kids, mine watch their fair share of TV. While I'm not always militant about cutting their screen time, I do try to keep a close eye on what they're watching, making sure it's not scary or violent or — particularly for my 6-year-old, who's starting to show some interest in Hannah Montana and the like — just too mature. And every time my girls tackle a problem with an Imagination Movers-inspired "idea emergency" fix, I like to tell myself that TV may not be all bad.
Do you see anything positive about your kids' favorite TV shows?
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