Young children who watch too much television are at risk of social isolation and violent behaviour at the age of 13, according to new research by the University of Montreal.
The study’s authors examined data from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. It was found that children who watched more than the recommended number of hours of television at the age of two and half years, when asked at 13 years old, reported feelings of victimisation, social isolation, intentional and planned aggression by peers, and antisocial behaviour.
The researchers then analysed the data to identify any significant link between such problems and early television viewing, discarding other factors.
Linda Pagani, the study’s lead author, said: ‘It is unclear to what extent excessive televiewing in early childhood – a particularly critical time in the development of areas of the brain involved in self-regulation of emotional intelligence – can adversely affect social interactions.’
‘The detection of early modifiable factors that influence later child well-being is an important target for individual and community health. Since establishing strong peer relationships, getting along well with others, and building a positive group social identity are essential elements in the successful transition to adolescence, we undertook to examine the long-term affect of televiewing in toddlerhood on normal development based on four key indicators of social impairment in children aged 13.’
‘Children who watched a lot of television growing up were more likely to prefer solitude, experience peer victimization, and adopt aggressive and antisocial behaviour toward their peers at the end of the first year of middle school. Transition to middle school is a crucial stage in adolescent development. We observed that excessive televiewing at age 13 tends to complicate the situation, posing additional risks of social impairment.’
We are often told that TV is bad for us, and the conclusions of this study seem to support that idea. There is a correlation vs causation argument to be had – it may or may not be the watching of television itself that leads to these issues; other factors which may relate to more television time (such as less social time with other children) may be more significant.
There are also significant limitations to the study itself, mainly based on how the data was obtained. Firstly, the amount of TV that the toddlers watched was established through a question on a survey that their parents carried out – a subjective and potentially inaccurate measure of the actual amount.
Equally, the information on social impairment was self-reported (again, through a questionnaire) by the 13 year olds being studied. Although the questions were specific, they may still be open to bias. Furthermore, although the study attempted to allow for confounding factors such as other environmental factors which may affect social development, this is not without its limitations. The results are, however, food for thought in a subject that would be very difficult to study without these potential limitations.