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Children's TV Use Linked to Poor Academic Performance

By Alicia Wittmeyer
LA Times, July 5, 2005

Kid's test scores not up to par? That new TV in his room could be to blame.

Three new studies, published in the latest issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, provide more ammunition for linking too much television to poor academic performance in children, and some support for buying a home computer.

One Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University study found that children with televisions in their bedrooms scored significantly lower on standardized tests than children who watched the same amount of TV, but do not have bedroom sets. The same study also found that children with access to a computer at home scored significantly higher.

Another study, from the University of Washington, found that watching TV before age 3 could hurt children's reading skills and other forms of cognitive development by the time they reach 6.

And in another study, New Zealand researchers tracked more than 1,000 children for nearly 30 years, and found that those who watched the most television between ages 5 and 15 were the least likely to graduate from high school or college by age 26 perhaps a sign that excessive TV during childhood could have long-lasting effects.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 2 do not watch any TV, and that older children be limited to no more than one or two hours a day of "quality screen time."

But recent Kaiser Family Foundation studies show that children ages 8 to 18 watch about three hours of television per day, while younger children, from infants to 6 years old, are watching about one hour per day, on average.

"We think this is important research because we know that kids are living in a media saturated world, and we're hoping to find out what the impact is of having all this media in their lives," said Dina Borzekowski, a co-author of the Stanford-Johns Hopkins study, and an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The studies controlled for variables such as parental education, IQ, sex and household income. But all three studies were criticized in an Archives article in the same edition for not examining the content of the television that the children were watching.

Other research has found that watching quality educational television can help children learn, said Deborah Linebarger, an assistant professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania, and co-author of the editorial.

Studies that focus on the time children spend watching TV instead of looking at what they are watching can demonize television instead of educating parents about how to use it as a tool, she said.

"We have found that content is a much better predictor of outcomes than just the fact that you watch," she said. "TV is not good or bad. It's not inherently a bad medium. It's much more nuanced than that."

The Stanford and Johns Hopkins study, which controlled for total time spent in front of the TV, does not condemn television, Borzekowski said.

Borzekowski and her research partner, Dr. Thomas Robinson, a Stanford professor and pediatrician, are still unsure about why there is an association between bedroom television sets and poor test scores.

Children with personal television sets might watch less education programming in their bedrooms than they watch with their families in the living room. Or, parents who place a television in their child's bedroom might take less of an interest in their schoolwork, while parents who have a home computer might be more involved, Borzekowski said.

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