BY MARY ROCKEY, PH.D., BCBA, DIRECTOR OF PUPIL SERVICES, RANDOLPH CENTRAL SCHOOL
We have spent the last several months looking at the effects of TV and videos on the development of our young children. Today’s topic is attention and how TV and videos impact the development of attention and self regulation skills in developing brains. Most of us are aware of the fact that the incidence of ADHD and ADD are on the rise in our society. Children just don’t pay attention like they used to in the good old days. What major change has occurred in regard to their life today, that is different from their lives, say twenty or thirty years ago. The answer is that their brains receive much more visual input while their bodies are sedentary. They sit and watch instead of sitting and thinking, playing and exploring.
There is a growing body of research that stresses that children and TV/videos don’t mix well. A longitudinal study by the Child Health Institute looked at children as they developed from the age of one and three years of age. Using over 2500 children in the study, the results showed that with every hour of television viewed per day by one and three year olds, there is a 9% increase in the probability of having attentional problems by age seven. So, if a child watches two hours a day, then the increase is 18%. If a child watches five hours a day, the probability is close to 50% that the child will have problems with attention by the age of seven. The study defines attentional problems as having difficulty concentrating, restlessness, impulsiveness and being confused easily. This is a very significant finding.
In another study, Neuropsychologist Jane Healy notes: “Neuroscience increasingly confirms the power of environmental experiences in shaping the developing brain because of the plasticity of its neuronal connectivity. Thus, repeated exposure to any stimulus in a child’s environment may forcibly impact mental and emotional growth by either setting up particular circuitry or depriving the brain of other experiences. With today's “epidemic” of ADHD, perhaps it is indeed time to ask the research questions so ably initiated by Christakis et al and to consider that pediatricians may have yet one more job to do in early parent education about placing limits on screen time”. (Pediatrics," April 2004) Results of her study reveal that 43% of children aged 2 and younger watch television every day, and 26% have a television in their bedrooms. The study also showed 68% of children under the age of 2 spend slightly more than 2 hours per day using screen media.
Finally, a study from Cornell University discusses the linkage between autism and TV/video viewing. Results of the study by Waldman, Nicholson and Adilov indicates that there appears to be a statistically significant relationship between autism rates and television watching by children under the age of 3. The researchers studied autism incidence in California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington state. They found that as cable television became common in California and Pennsylva
nia beginning around 1980, childhood autism rose more in the counties that had cable than in the counties that did not. They further found that in all the Western states, the more time toddlers spent in front of the television, the more likely they were to exhibit symptoms of autism disorders. It is important to note that attentional behavior is one of the critical aspects of the manifestation of autism.
So, based on these studies and many more out there, parents need to think about how much TV and videos their young children experience. It seems to me that the evidence is mounting. As the Success by Six campaign from a few years back said: Read, Sing and Play with your children. The TV and videos are not the answer.
Christakis, DA, Zimmerman, FJ, DiGiuseppe, DL and McCarty, CA. (2004) Early television exposure and subsequent attentional problems in children. Pediatrics, (113:4)
Healy, J. (2004) Early television exposure and subsequent attentional problems in children. The Journal of Pediatrics, Volume 145, Issue 5, Pages 679-680
Zimmerman, FJ (2007) Pediatrics for parents.
Mary Rockey, Ph.D., BCBA is the Director of Pupil Service at Randolph Central School.