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Educational, Pro-Social Programs on TV can Improve Kids' Behavior

Update Date: Feb 18, 2013 07:53 AM EST

Parents can encourage kids to be more pro-social by letting them watch educational content on television, says a new study. Researchers involved in the study found that just changing the content, and not duration, lowered aggression in children.

According to estimates, children in the U.S. spend about 4.5 hours on watching television and more than an hour playing video games.

There have been many studies in the past that have linked violence on television to affects kids' behavior and on their levels of aggression in early adulthood. The current study shows that the effects of TV violence can be changed by switching to content that is less aggressive and more educational in nature.

"The take-home message for parents is it's not just about turning off the TV; it's about changing the channel," Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, lead author of the study and professor of pediatrics, University of Washington, told The New York Times.

The study, conducted by researchers from Seattle Children's Research Institute and the University of Washington, included 565 parents of preschool-aged children aged 3 to 5 years. These study participants were divided into two groups; in one group, parents had to change the content that the children were watching - from violent to educational, while in the second group, parents were simply given advice on improving food habits of the children, reports The New York Times.

None of the intervention strategies reduced the screen-time for the kids, meaning that the kids watched the same number of hours of TV, with one group watching educational content and the other watching the regular shows.

Also, parents in the first group were encouraged to sit with their kids while they watched television. Researchers then assessed all the kids' levels of aggression and social engagement at 6 months and again after 12 months.

The study results showed that kids in both groups increased TV-viewing duration during the study period. However, kids who got to watch educational programs showed less aggressive behavior when compared to the control group.

A related study, from Pediatrics, had earlier shown that switching to less violent content on the TV can help kids sleep better

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.                         

Other experts agree with the study findings. "Here we have an experiment that proposes a potential solution. Giving this intervention - exposing kids to less adult television, less aggression on television and more prosocial television - will have an effect on behavior," said Dr. Thomas N. Robinson, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford, who was not involved in the study, reports The New York Times. 

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