School Climate & Safety

Television and Video Games Don’t Create Maladjusted Children

By Ross Brenneman — April 01, 2013 2 min read
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A new study of children in the United Kingdom shows that video-game screen time does not determine a child’s future behavior, and television exposure showed only minor effects.

In the University of Glasgow study, researchers followed a randomized, representative sample of five-year-olds over two years, as the children continually watched three hours of TV daily. The team found that television screen time showed a minor effect on future conduct, but no effect on emotional symptoms or prosocial behavior, as compared to children receiving less than an hour of screen time. Video-game screen time showed no effect, either generally or when divided by gender.

Ultimately, 13,857 children completed the study. The authors call it the first longitudinal examination in the United Kingdom that focused on associations between screen exposure and changes in psychosocial adjustment. The countries that comprise the United Kingdom don’t have any guidelines for screen time, in contrast to screen-time guidelines in the U.S. provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, American children in the United States do watch over three hours of TV daily.

The findings plays into a great deal of past research that shows media consumption does not cause violence. Indeed, some positive media, like the kind found on children’s programming, may have a slight positive effect on children. Many studies conclude that providing children with context is a determining factor in overall effect.

Schools cannot control what kinds of media students consume at home, but this kind of research suggests that children displaying behavioral problems at school probably have a non-media influence. Or at least that television consumption is perhaps, at worst, aggravating problems that otherwise already exist. But these studies are also important to keep in mind when you hear about school safety problems; the National Rifle Association, which is releasing a school safety plan tomorrow, initially blamed media consumption for last year’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

This study doesn’t, of course, mean that screen time doesn’t carry other problems. The more time spent on sedentary activities means an increased chance of obesity. And too much screen time before bed leads to a bad night’s sleep. Both obesity and fatigue can seriously affect a child’s academic performance.

Now, the Glasgow study only looked at screen time, not content. Since these are British children, perhaps they’re just only exposed to less-violent media about class disparity. (We get it already, “Downton Abbey.”) But that’s a thought based solely on the content of “Masterpiece Theatre” every Sunday night, so do with it what you will.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.