Too much TV related to drops in school readiness, especially among low-income children

March 1, 2017, New York University
Credit: Paul Brennan/public domain

Watching television for more than a couple of hours a day is linked to lower school readiness skills in kindergartners, particularly among children from low-income families, finds a study by NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and Université Sainte-Anne.

The findings, published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, reinforce the need for limits on , such as those laid out by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

In its 2001 guidelines, the AAP recommended that over the age of 2 watch no more than two hours of per day. These guidelines, updated in October 2016, now recommend that children between 2 and 5 watch no more than one hour of television.

"Given that studies have reported that children often watch more than the recommended amount, and the current prevalence of technology such as smartphones and tablets, engaging in screen time may be more frequent now than ever before," said Andrew Ribner, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Applied Psychology at NYU Steinhardt and the study's lead author.

Research has shown that watching television is negatively associated with early academic skills, but little is known about how socioeconomic status influences and child development. In the current study, the researchers examined whether the negative relationship between watching television and varied by family income.

Ribner and his colleagues looked at data from 807 kindergartners of diverse backgrounds. Their parents reported , as well as the number of hours of television their children watch on a daily basis. Video game, tablet, and smartphone use were not included in the measurement.

Children were assessed using measures of math, knowledge of letters and words, and - key cognitive and social-emotional competencies, including working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control, that are viewed as fundamental for school readiness.

The researchers found that the number of hours of television young children watch is related to decreases in their school readiness, particularly their math skills and executive function. This association was strongest when children watched more than two hours of television.

As family incomes decreased, the link between television watching and drops in school readiness grew, meaning children from are hurt more by watching too much television. Those at or near the poverty line (an annual income of around $21,200 for a family of four) saw the largest drop in school readiness when children watched more than two hours of television. A more modest drop was observed among middle-income families (measured as $74,200 per year for a family of four), while there was no link between school readiness and television viewing in high-income homes (measured as around $127,000 per year for a family of four).

Interestingly, while television viewing was negatively associated with and executive function, a similar link was not found with letter and word knowledge. The researchers speculate that television programming, especially educational programs for children, may work to improve literacy among young children in ways that are not found in math.

While the study did not measure the type of content the children watched, nor the context of their television viewing, the researchers note that both may be relevant to their findings, particularly in understanding why more affluent families appeared to be protected from the decline in school readiness linked to too much television.

For instance, children in higher-income homes may be watching more educational programming and less entertainment, which has been found in earlier studies. In addition, more affluent parents may be more likely to watch television with their children - offering explanation and discussion that can promote understanding - based on having more time and resources.

"Our results suggest that the circumstances that surround child screen time can influence its detrimental effects on learning outcomes," said Caroline Fitzpatrick of Canada's Université Sainte-Anne, who is also an affiliate researcher at Concordia University and a coauthor on the study.

The researchers recommend that efforts be made by pediatricians and to reinforce the AAP guidelines and help parents limit the amount of television children watch to fewer than two hours a day.

Explore further: Smartphones and tablets and adolescents: Small size, big problems?

Related Stories

Smartphones and tablets and adolescents: Small size, big problems?

December 14, 2016
Research has shown that when children watch too much television, their risk of obesity increases. However, more and more screen time is coming from other devices, like tablets and smartphones, and the impact of these devices ...

Just an hour of TV a day linked to unhealthy weight in kindergartners

April 26, 2015
New research shows that it doesn't take much for kids to be considered couch potatoes.

Children who watch lots of TV may have poor bone health later in life

July 7, 2016
Consistently watching high levels of television during childhood and adolescence were linked with lower peak bone mass at age 20 years in a recent study.

Background TV can be bad for kids

July 24, 2014
Parents, turn off the television when your children are with you. And when you do let them watch, make sure the programs stimulate their interest in learning.

Recommended for you

Phone-addicted teens are unhappy, study finds

January 22, 2018
Happiness is not a warm phone, according to a new study exploring the link between adolescent life satisfaction and screen time. Teens whose eyes are habitually glued to their smartphones are markedly unhappier, said study ...

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

NeuroNext biomarker study explores natural history of infantile-onset SMA

January 9, 2018
Research led by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to define the natural history of infantile-onset spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) has been "critical" to accelerate the development of effective therapies and hasten ...

No link between childhood lead levels, later criminality

December 27, 2017
(HealthDay)— Exposure to higher levels of lead during early childhood can affect neurological development—but does that mean affected kids are doomed to delinquency?

Early puberty in girls may take mental health toll

December 26, 2017
(HealthDay)—A girl who gets her first menstrual period early in life—possibly as young as 7—has a greater risk for developing depression and antisocial behaviors that last at least into her 20s, a new study suggests.

Technology not taking over children's lives despite screen-time increase

December 21, 2017
With children spending increasing amounts of time on screen-based devices, there is a common perception that technology is taking over their lives, to the detriment and exclusion of other activities. However, new Oxford University ...

0 comments

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.