What you let your preschoolers watch on television can change their behavior for the good or bad, according to a study recently released by the American Academy of Pediatrics. A second study concluded that excessive screen time as children can lead to antisocial behaviors in adults.
The study, “Modifying Media Content for Preschool Children: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” will be published in the March 2013 issue of Pediatrics and was published online Feb. 18. In the study, researchers followed 820 families with children aged 3 to 5 years who spent time in front of screens each week.
Through their community pediatric practices, half of the families participated in an intervention in which they replaced aggression-filled programming with “prosocial” and/or educational content for the children. The other half of families was in a control group and did not participate in the intervention. The intervention did not attempt to reduce the number of hours of screen time for the children, but it did encourage a positive media diet and co-viewing with parents.
A case manager followed up with families regularly for 12 months. At 6 months and 12 months, the children in the intervention group were spending significantly less time on violent programming than they did at the start of the study compared to the control group. Both the intervention and control groups increased their viewing time slightly during the study, but the control group increased its minutes of violent content, while the intervention group increased its minutes of “prosocial” and educational content.
At 6 months, 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. The authors concluded that such an intervention can positively impact child behavior.
“We demonstrated that an intervention to modify the viewing habits of preschool-aged children can significantly enhance their overall social and emotional competence and that low income boys may derive the greatest benefit,” the study authors concluded. “By focusing on content rather than quantity, this study is the first to our knowledge to employ a harm reduction approach to mediating the untoward effects of television viewing on child behavior.”