Aggressive TV Is Making Children Mean, Anti-Social
February 18, 2013

Aggressive TV Is Making Children Mean, Anti-Social

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

It´s safe to say television has not always been seen as an appropriate companion for children. For many years, health officials and child development experts have warned parents about the dangers of placing their children in front of the television for several hours a day.

Now, new evidence has shown the question is shifting from “how much” to “which programs.”

According to new studies from the University of Otago in New Zealand and The Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Hospital, while limiting the amount of television watched is a good start, parents should also be careful about which programs their children watch.

The University of Otago study, led by professors Bob Hancox and Lindsay Robertson, has been published today in the journal Pediatrics.

This study followed a group of 1,000 children born in Dunedin, New Zealand between 1972 and 1973. In the ten years when these kids were between 5 and 15 years of age, researchers followed up biennially to measure how much television they watched. By the numbers, those kids who watched more television were more likely to be antisocial and, in some cases, end up with a criminal conviction of some sort.

According to professor Hancox, the possibility of a criminal conviction grew by 30 percent with every hour of television a child watched in an average weeknight. This study also found that those children who watched more television saw an increased tendency to develop negative personality traits, antisocial personality disorders and even a pattern of aggressive behavior.

Hancox and Robertson found that these children were not already prone to criminal convictions or antisocial behavior due to socioeconomic status or pre-existing antisocial behaviors.

“Rather, children who watched a lot of television were likely to go on to manifest antisocial behavior and personality traits,” said Robertson, speaking in a statement.

“While we´re not saying that television causes all antisocial behavior, our findings do suggest that reducing TV viewing could go some way towards reducing rates of antisocial behavior in society,” said Hancox.

Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, the lead author of the Seattle study agrees with this premise, but takes it a step farther, suggesting that parents think about what´s on the television rather than simply turning it off.

“We want our children to behave better,” Dr. Christakis said in a New York Times interview, “and changing their media diet is a good way to do that.”

“The take-home message for parents is it´s not just about turning off the TV; it´s about changing the channel.” Dr. Christakis´ study is one of the largest of its kind to be performed, studying the effects of different types of television on young children between 3 and 5 years old.

Parents were asked to switch the kinds of programming their children watched, from aggressive or anti-social programs– such as Spongebob or Power Rangers– to positive, pro-social content. After 6 months, parents reported significantly improved behavior from their children, even without changing the amount of time their kids spent in front of the TV.

Combined, these studies show significant proof that television watching, no matter the content or duration, have a significant effect on children.

However, one associate professor at the University of Albany School of Public Health who was not affiliated with either study thinks there are even larger issues at play.

"Although this innovative study shows changing content without changing viewing time helps lower aggression, other health issues may need to be approached in different ways,” said Jennifer Manganello, speaking to USA Today. "For instance, studies have shown that reducing screen time can be helpful when trying to reduce the risk for obesity.”