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Watching TV impacts children’s learning ability

Does TV really have a negative impact on children’s learning? A number of findings seem to indicate that watching TV slows learning and can adversely affect children’s academic performance. Read on and find out how to make the best use of television for your children.

Child learning & TV
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American and New Zealand researchers reignited the long-standing debate over the influence of TV on children a few years back. This time around, it wasn’t about violence and obesity… The scientists focused on the impact of watching television on intellectual abilities.   

Babies, toddlers and TV

What is the effect of watching TV on young infants? The American researchers1 set out to answer this question by comparing the intellectual capacities of children aged 6 to 7 depending on the amount of time they had spent watching TV before the age of 3, and between the ages of 3 and 5.

It was noted that, prior to the age of 3, the young Americans watched TV more than 2 hours daily. Between the ages of 3 and 5, they were found to spend over 3 hours a day in front of the television.

The researchers observed two different effects of watching TV depending on age:

  • Under the age of 3: the children who spend the most time watching TV are least likely to perform well on reading, comprehension and memory tests;
  • Over the age 3: watching TV brings an advantage, but only with regard to reading.

It should be noted that in both cases, cognitive performance variations remain exceedingly small. Researchers opine that the most sensible recommendation would be to place limits on the amount of time children are allowed to watch TV, and to altogether stop children under 2 from spending time watching TV.

University first, then TV

New-Zealand researchers2 explored the longer-term links between watching TV and intelligence levels. They followed 1,000 children born between 1972 and 1973 and examined their later academic achievements, from which they drew two observations concerning excessive TV watching:

  • Watching TV in childhood (between 5 and 11) is associated with the failure to complete university;
  • Watching TV in adolescence (between 13 and 15) raises risks of dropping out of school without a degree.

The first case seems to disprove the positive impact of television in children over 3. Over the long haul, it appears that TV watching by children of any age detrimental effects. The detrimental effects of watching TV in adolescence arise from the fact that too much TV takes time away from homework and learning.

Take the TV out of your child’s bedroom

In order to cut back on the amount of time your child spends in front of the TV, a good first step is to remove the TV set from their room, another American study suggests3. Researchers showed that a primary school child whose room is equipped with a TV set suffered direct consequences on their intellectual performance, and that they performed more poorly on cognitive tests with mathematics and reading questions.

Don’t blame it all on the telly, though. Certain programs can contribute to the development of your child’s imagination, while others can impart concrete knowledge – think nature, wildlife and science shows, age-classified films and series. In all cases, as a parent, you need to be fully aware of what your child is actually watching on the TV. Television shouldn’t substitute other learning activities, such as going out, sport, reading and playing.

The same could be said for excessive use of video games, social networks and other computer-related activities, although we will probably have to wait another decade or so to have scientific evidence on how this affects adult intelligence.

And of course, if you don’t want your child to watch too much TV, then the first thing to do is set a good example yourself!

1 - Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, June, 2005; vol. 159: p. 614-618.
2 - Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, June, 2005; vol. 159: p. 619-625.
3 - Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, June, 2005; vol. 159: p. 607-613

Posted 02.12.2010

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