Crankier babies may get more TV time

April 14, 2014 by Randy Dotinga, Healthday Reporter
Crankier babies may get more TV time
Study didn't look at type of programming or possible effect on kids.

(HealthDay)—Fussy and demanding babies are likely to spend slightly more time plopped in front of a TV or computer screen when they're toddlers than are "easier" babies, new research finds.

It's not clear just what this finding means. Parents could be trying to get a break from their high-maintenance , or the kids could be naturally drawn to screens. The study didn't explore what the kids were watching, so it's not clear if those extra minutes of ""—an average of nine minutes a day—were harmful, beneficial or somewhere in between.

But the main finding is still intriguing, said study lead author Dr. Jenny Radesky, a fellow with the department of pediatrics at Boston Medical Center. "The children who really had difficulties with regulating their emotions, calming themselves down and sleeping well wound up watching significantly more media when they were toddlers," she said.

Radesky launched the study to better understand young children, like her own, who can be fussy and difficult. "I know how stressful that can be as a parenting experience for new parents," she said.

It may not be temporary, Radesky said. High-maintenance kids can grow up into high-maintenance adults who have a hard time coping with life and its challenges, she said.

But it's not clear how much being fussy and irritable—at age 2 or age 52—has to do with genes and how much has to do with nurture and other factors. And being demanding isn't necessarily a universally bad trait for an adult. It could, for example, make someone a fine CEO.

Radesky also wanted to explore the issue of "screen time"—sitting in front of a computer monitor or TV screen.

She and her colleagues pulled statistics from surveys of parents of 7,450 kids who were born in 2001 and tracked for a couple of years. At the age of 9 months, 39 percent were deemed to have moderate or severe problems with so-called "self-regulation," suggesting they're generally fussier, moodier and more irritable and demanding than the other kids.

These children looked at screens an average of 2 hours and 29 minutes a day, according to their parents, nine minutes more than the average level of "screen time" for the other kids.

Some of the parents might not have accurately reported how much screen time their kids got, so the numbers could be wrong. The study is also a bit out of date when it comes to the evolution of screen time: Parents were surveyed before the dawn of iPads and smartphones.

In general, researchers frown on exposing kids of any age to a lot of screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 not watch any TV "or other entertainment media" because they learn best by interacting with people.

Of course, many parents don't follow those guidelines because they want to occupy their children so they can work, do chores or simply relax.

Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University, praised the study and pointed to a potential risk from using TV as a way to distract troublesome kids.

At issue, he said, is whether the child is learning a valuable way to cope. "We all use the media as a coping strategy. You have a hard day at work, and you just want to flop in front of the TV. But distraction is a low-level problem-solving strategy. What if that's the only skill you've got?"

Gentile acknowledged that questions remain. For example, he said, researchers haven't determined if screen time might actually make fussy and demanding kids even more fussy and demanding.

In a second study in the same journal, researchers at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and the Harvard School of Public Health found an association between more TV viewing/having a TV in the bedroom in early childhood and shorter sleep, especially among minority children.

What's next for research? Radesky said a study to be released soon will shed light on what are actually watching when they get "screen time." The current study doesn't examine the content of programming, meaning there's no way to know if it's educational.

"I really want to know if this is a good thing," she said. "Are getting a break from their more intense children by putting [them] in front of educational media? Or is it worse because they're missing out on more educational activities?"

The study was published online April 14 and appears in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Explore further: TV, computer time tied to heavier, less happy kids, study says

More information: For more about "screen time" and children, try the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Related Stories

TV, computer time tied to heavier, less happy kids, study says

March 17, 2014
(HealthDay)—Kids who spend more time plunked in front of screens may become unhappier, new research suggests. Meanwhile, mothers who devote the most effort to monitoring their kids' exposure to computers and TVs could ...

Toddlers getting more tablet use, study finds

October 28, 2013
The craze for tablets and smartphones is spreading to ever younger users. A new study of American households found 38 percent of toddlers and infants under the age of two have used a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone, ...

Limiting screen time yields mulitple benefits, ISU study finds

March 31, 2014
Parents may not always see it, but efforts to limit their children's screen time can make a difference. A new study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found children get more sleep, do better in school, behave better and see ...

Kids mimic parents' TV viewing habits

July 15, 2013
(HealthDay)—If you want your kids to spend less time parked in front of a television, you need to set the example.

TV linked to poor snacking habits, cardiovascular risk in middle schoolers

March 28, 2014
Middle school kids who park themselves in front of the TV for two hours or more each day are more likely to consume junk food and have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, even compared to those who spend an equal amount ...

Recommended for you

At the cellular level, a child's loss of a father is associated with increased stress

July 18, 2017
The absence of a father—due to incarceration, death, separation or divorce—has adverse physical and behavioral consequences for a growing child. But little is known about the biological processes that underlie this link ...

New comparison chart sheds light on babies' tears

July 10, 2017
A chart that enables parents and clinicians to calculate if a baby is crying more than it should in the first three months of its life has been created by a Kingston University London researcher, following a study of colic ...

Blood of SIDS infants contains high levels of serotonin

July 3, 2017
Blood samples from infants who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) had high levels of serotonin, a chemical that carries signals along and between nerves, according to a study funded in part by the National Institutes ...

Is your child's 'penicillin allergy' real?

July 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—Many children suspected of being allergic to the inexpensive, first-line antibiotic penicillin actually aren't, new research indicates.

Probiotic supplements failed to prevent babies' infections

July 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—Probiotic supplements may not protect babies from catching colds or stomach bugs in day care, a new clinical trial suggests.

Starting school young can put child wellbeing at risk

June 22, 2017
New research has shown that the youngest pupils in each school year group could be at risk of worse mental health than their older classmates.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.