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3 or More Hours of TV a Day May Lead to Antisocial Behaviors in Children

Update Date: Mar 25, 2013 06:44 PM EDT

Five year old children who watch more than three hours of TV a day are significantly more likely to develop antisocial behaviors like fighting or stealing two years later, according to a new study published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

However, researchers noted that the risk is very small and time spent playing computer or electronic games had no impact on behavior.  

Previous studies have also linked various behavioral and emotional problems to prolonged television screening time in children. 

Researchers in the current study wanted to explore what psychological and social impact time spent watching TV and playing video games might have on children between the ages of five and seven.

The study involved a representative sample of over 11,000 children who were part of the Millennium Cohort Study. 

The children's mothers were asked to describe how well adjusted their children were using a validated Strengths and Difficulties (SDQ) questionnaire, which measured conduct problems, emotional symptoms, poor attention span/hyperactivity, difficulties making friends and empathy and concern for others.

Researchers also asked the mother to report how much time their children spent watching TV and playing computer and video games at the age of five.

The study revealed that almost two thirds of children watched TV for between one and three hours every day at the age of five, 15 percent watched more than three hours of TV daily and less than 2 percent watched no television.

Researchers took into account confounding factors like parenting and family dynamics, and found that watching TV for three or more hours a day was significantly associated with a very small increased risk of antisocial behavior or conduct problems between the ages of five and seven.

However, researchers did not link a lot of time in front of the TV to other difficulties like emotional problems or attention issues.

Study authors said the links between prolonged television viewing time and mental health may be indirect.  They explain that children who watch a lot of television might have increased sedentary behavior, sleeping difficulties, and impaired language development.  Researchers said that the child's own temperament may also predict screen time habits.

Nonetheless researcher conclude that their findings "suggests that a cautionary approach to the heavy use of screen entertainment in young children is justifiable in terms of potential effects on wellbeing, particularly conduct problems, in addition to effects on physical health and academic progress shown elsewhere," according to the study. 

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