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More Screen Time = Less Attention Span

More Screen Time = Less Attention Span

While growing up, there were literally no restrictions on television in our house. My mother, as a hard-working single parent, loved TV and grew to appreciate how much of a companion it was to her two children. In my memory, the TV was rarely off, and much of our evening was charted out by the chronicle of what the TV was offering. When home video and home video gaming became accessible, we got a VCR and an Atari gaming system. We alternated between video football and Battlestar Galactica and knew it was time to get to bed once the 11PM news anchors took over the screen with their talk of death and mayhem. Whether there is a connection or not, academic achievement became difficult for my sister and me, and I am fairly confident that our serial TV watching didn’t help matters.

While I am not willing to draw a serious conclusion between substandard academic performance and near-fanatical and continual TV viewing, it seems there are others that are much more willing than myself. In a study from Iowa State University, 6 to 12-year olds who spent more than two hours a day playing video games or watching TV had trouble paying attention in school. The same study surveyed teachers and parents about kids’ screen habits and discovered that heavy screen timers were nearly twice as likely to have above average attention deficit problems (not exactly a surprise, but validation for many who have been casually making the connection for years).

But compare the typical TV fodder of the 1980s to the contemporary TV options and you will see a marked difference. The pace and frequency of images has greatly increased; with more and more information to be processed by little brains in a matter of seconds. For all that could be said about the velocity of television, contemporary video games have moved far beyond the hyper-visual. The average video game exposes the viewer/gamer to 750 million sounds and images a minute (OK, I am making this up, but trust me, it is a lot!) and essentially overloads the brain with data. It would be fair, based on the above study, to deduce that the bevy of information clogs the developing brain with enough gamer silage to make even the most basic academic tasks (even hours after the game has been switched off) a supreme challenge for most children.

Is it fair to say that the pacing of the program, whether its video games or TV is overstimulating enough to contribute to persistent attention problems for children? Is it the quality of the programming, or the quantity? Do you impose strict rules about TV, games, and online time in your home? Or, to all of the teenagers out there: have you noticed an impact (if any) that TV, video games and online time have had on your ability to focus and excel in school?

Read more: ADHD, Children, Family, Healthy Schools, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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10:48PM PDT on Sep 21, 2012

No wonder some of you might not have been able to sign the petition, thanks to a dear friend's feedback, turns out the page has no sign link ...
Here's the updated correct page:

I'll verify this as soon as i post

4:18AM PDT on Aug 15, 2010

As a teacher this is not surprising. The students who self-admittedly spend the most time in front of the tv or computer, are the ones who consistently do most poorly in school - and have the most trouble paying attention. Connection - I think so.

12:28AM PDT on Aug 8, 2010

That kid in the main photo should not be that close to the tv for any amount of time

6:34AM PDT on Jul 23, 2010

true, noted

4:34AM PDT on Jul 22, 2010

I am sure this is quit true!
My two daughter's children aged 10, 9 and two 6 year olds, have a severely limited time on TV watching.
They are all excellent learners and in fact quite brainy!
Although we are in winter here, the kids spend a lot of time outdoors competing in various sports!
Too long on TV can surely affect their concentration span at school.
There are dire warnings daily also in S.Africa, warning parents to not leave the kids with unlimited TV time!

2:53AM PDT on Jul 22, 2010

I enjoy TV, but it is really a rotten waste of time! I'm not surprised at all that it might be leading to a reduction in attention span, especially in children. We weren't allowed to watch much TV growing up, and definitely not before we got all our school work done - suffice to say we never had academic problems - in fact we basically always got top grades :D Of course, I'm not saying that all of it was connected to our lack of TV-watching (genetics, discipline, and hard work definitely played a part), but it might have played a role...anyway, thanks for sharing!

8:36AM PDT on Jul 21, 2010

Thank you for posting, Eric!

2:06PM PDT on Jul 20, 2010

Interesting. Thanks!

12:32AM PDT on Jul 20, 2010

I heard a mother say that her two year old daughter watches TV all day! It's no surprise that the child does not talk yet,she does not even say Mum or Dad.

Denise O'Shea

8:48PM PDT on Jul 18, 2010


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