TV 'affects children's behaviour'
Five-year-olds who watch more than three hours of television a day are more likely to develop anti-social behaviours than those who do not, research suggests.
The 15% of the age group who watch more than three hours of TV a day are at an increased risk of developing anti-social behaviours, such as fighting, stealing or disobedience, a study found.
The research, published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, examined more than 11,000 UK children when they were aged five and seven.
The children's parents were asked to complete a "strengths and difficulties questionnaire" to describe how well adjusted their children were. They were also asked to report how much time their children spent watching TV and playing computer games at the age of five. The researchers found that almost two-thirds of five-year-olds watched television between one and three hours a day, 15% watched more than three hours and less than 2% watched no television at all.
After taking into account various variables, including parenting and family dynamics, researchers found that watching TV for three or more hours a day led to a small but significant increased risk of anti-social behaviours in children aged five to seven. But spending a lot of time in front of the TV was not linked to other difficulties such as emotional problems or attention issues.
The authors, from the University of Glasgow, also found that time spent playing computer games had no impact on behaviour, and they conclude: "This study found that watching television, videos or DVDs for three hours or more daily was associated with a small increase in conduct problems between the ages of five years and seven years, after allowing for other child and family characteristics, including parenting."
But they added: "Our findings do not demonstrate that interventions to reduce screen exposure will improve psychosocial adjustment. Indeed, they suggest that interventions in respect of family and child characteristics, rather than a narrow focus on screen exposure, are more likely to improve outcomes.
"However, the study suggests that a cautionary approach to the heavy use of screen entertainment in young children is justifiable in terms of potential effects on mental well being, particularly conduct problems, in addition to effects on physical health and academic progress shown elsewhere."
Professor Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics, added: "If five-year-olds watch more than three hours of television per day, research detects a small but noticeable negative effect on their conduct problems, though no effect on hyperactivity or emotional problems.
"So, no cause for panic, but good reason to ask why some children spend so much time watching television - perhaps the pressures on their parents are too great, or perhaps there are no play spaces nearby? Or maybe what matters is how children watch television - research also shows that children benefit the most from opportunities to talk, interact and play - and this can be done in front of the television as well as elsewhere."