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TV-Watching Teens May Risk Academic Mediocrity


NEW YORK -- Extensive television viewing, widespread among young children, can carry over into adolescence and translate into learning and attention problems.

NEW YORK, May 8 -- Extensive television viewing, widespread among young children, can carry over into adolescence and translate into learning and attention problems.

Moreover, in many households with young children, TV-watching youngsters get little exercise, wrote authors of two studies published in the May issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

A third study, published in the May issue of Pediatrics, found that one-fifth of children under the age of two have televisions in their bedrooms, as do one-third of three- to six-year-olds.

And even though a generation raised on Sesame Street got a jumpstart on learning, the same viewing habits may trip up older children as they move through school, suggested Jeffrey G. Johnson, Ph.D., of the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University, and colleagues, in the Archives.

"It is important to note that although there is evidence indicating that educational programming may have positive effects on cognitive development during childhood, our findings suggest that the benefits of educational programming during childhood may tend to be outweighed by frequent viewing of entertainment and general audience programs during adolescence," they wrote.

The investigators looked at television viewing and its relation to educational and intellectual outcomes among teens and young adults from 678 families who were part of the Children in the Community study, a large longitudinal cohort study of families in Albany and Saratoga counties in New York.

They looked at the frequency of television viewing as it related to attention difficulties, learning problems, and academic achievement during adolescence and young adulthood. The primary outcome measures were the Disorganizing Poverty Interview, and age-appropriate versions of the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children.

"Television viewing time at mean age 14 years was associated with elevated risk for subsequent frequent attention difficulties, frequent failure to complete homework assignments, frequent boredom at school, failure to complete high school, poor grades, negative attitudes about school (e.g., hates school), overall academic failure in secondary school, and failure to obtain postsecondary (e.g., college, university, training school) education," the authors wrote.

The associations between total TV time and poor school performance held up even when the data were controlled for potential confounders such as age, gender, parental socioeconomic status, childhood neglect, and the presence of any attention or learning difficulty at age 14 years, the authors noted.

Television viewing appeared to have a dose-dependent effect, with children who watched three or more hours of TV daily at age 14 being at highest risk for failing to complete post-secondary education by age 33, compared with kids who watched less than an hour a day (odds ratio 3.06, 95% confidence interval, 1.62-5.78).

The authors also found that only two of 14 analyses they conducted hinted that kids with learning difficulties may choose to spend more time watching television.

"The results suggest that although youths with attention or learning problems may spend more time watching television than do youths without these difficulties, this tendency may be unlikely to explain the preponderance of the association between television viewing and attention and learning difficulties during adolescence," the authors wrote.

Just when and by how much younger children consume TV/video daily was the focus of two other studies.

In the first, also published in the Archives, Frederick J. Zimmerman, Ph.D., of the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues, surveyed 1,009 parents of children from the ages of two to 24 months.

They found that by three months of age, before infants are capable of sitting up unaided, about 40% regularly watched television, DVDs, or videos, and by 24 months of age, 90% of kids were habitually plugged in. The children were regularly exposed to visual media by a median age of nine months, and average daily viewing time increased from one hour daily at 12 months, to more than 1.5 hours by 24 months, the authors.

Parents watched with their children more than half the time, and when they were asked why they allowed their very young children to watch television, 28.9% said it was good for the child's brain or because it would teach the child something. Nearly 23% of parents agreed with the statement that television watching "is something he/she really enjoys doing," and about 21% agreed that they let their kids watch because "I need some time to get things done on my own."

"It is clear that the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation of no screen time for children younger than two years has not been widely heeded," Dr. Zimmerman and colleagues wrote.

A second survey of viewing habits, by Elizabeth A. Vandewater, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Austin, and colleagues, found that one in five children under age two, and about one in three kids from the ages of three to six has a television in their bedrooms. More than half of the parents responding to the survey said having a TV in the young child's bedroom freed other televisions in the house for other family members.

"These children are growing up in a media-saturated environment with almost universal access to television, and a striking number have a television in their bedroom," Dr. Vandewater and colleagues wrote in the May issue of Pediatrics. "Media and technology are here to stay and are virtually guaranteed to play an ever-increasing role in daily life, even among the very young. Additional research on their developmental impact is crucial to public health."

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