Some TV (emphasize on “some”) may actually help reduce aggression in preschoolers and especially in boys. That’s the findings from a randomized study of a number of families with preschoolers in Washington state.
Specifically, the researchers connected lower levels of aggression in children (and in boys from low-income families in particular) who watched made-for-children shows like Wonder Pets! and My Friend Rabbit, which feature characters (digitally created animals) working collaboratively and emphasizing friendship.
Researchers from Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington split 565 parents of children ages 3 to 5 into two groups. Both groups were to record their children’s daily media consumption in a diary. The researchers then analyzed these parent accounts to see if the children watched “violent, didactic and prosocial content” on TV, with the last one defined as programs “showing empathy, helping others and resolving disputes without violence.”
Researchers gave a control group advice on dietary habits for children and nothing more. The other group of parents received quite a bit of input from the researchers: they were given program guides listing positive shows for young children as well as publications that encouraged them to join their children in watching TV and interact by asking questions while the shows were on about how best to deal with conflict. A previous study has found that, when preschoolers are shown a moral conflict in a show they do not necessarily connect it with the moral later in the show.
The researchers also contacted the parents monthly to help them set up goals about their children’s TV watching.
The families were surveyed after six months and a year. Here’s the results, according to the New York Times:
After six months, parents in the group receiving advice about television-watching said their children were somewhat less aggressive with others, compared with those in the control group. The children who watched less violent shows also scored higher on measures of social competence, a difference that persisted after one year.
The study is a good reminder to parents (and to us all) that we need to be active consumers of TV and other media and not just assume that, because a program is labeled “educational,” that a child can figure out its message.
Given the amount of time preschoolers spend watching tv or engaging in “screen time” of some sort — 4.1 hours plus, according to a 2011 study — the new study’s findings are welcome. Rare is the parent who hasn’t pulled up a video or game on some device to keep a little one occupied while trying to make dinner, do much-needed laundry or just collapse for five minutes on the couch.
Still, as preschoolers need an average of 10 to 12 hours of sleep in 24-hour period, it is still advisable to lower the hours they spend in front of screens of any sort and to add in some more time in which they are up and running and — with spring around the corner — especially outdoors, with the electronics left inside. Getting in some exercise is, after all, a tried-and-true method of helping kids work out pent-up energies.
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