A recent study found that parents concerned about the impact the television has on their children have a powerful tool at their disposal – the remote control. Researchers concluded that switching programs from violent, sexually-suggestive ones to those more educational or enriching could improve behavior in preschoolers even without reducing the total time they spend watching television.
The differences in behavior were small, and the older the kids got, the less of an impact the change in programs had, but still – the results are considered a first step in helping kids become less aggressive in the way their interact with others.
"It's not just about turning off the television. It's about changing the channel. What children watch is as important as how much they watch," said lead author Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a University of Washington researcher and a pediatrician at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.
The paper was published in this month's issue of Pediatrics and involved nearly 600 Seattle-area children. The researchers based their conclusions on self-reporting via diaries that were used to keep track of what and how much the kids were watching. Half the parents in the study kept their kids watching child-directed fare like Sesame Street and other PBS favorites, while the other half were not given any guidelines on what their children should watch. They did, however, get some advice on more healthful eating.
Although both groups showed improvement in behavior at the conclusion of the 6-month study, the group whose TV-viewing activities were more regimented showed greater degree of improvement.
By one year, there was no meaningful difference between the two groups overall. Low-income boys appeared to get the most short-term benefit.
"That's important because they are at the greatest risk, both for being perpetrators of aggression in real life, but also being victims of aggression," Christakis said.
According to the authors of the study, the results might have been skewed by some flaws inherent in the methodology used. Although parents weren't told what the researchers hoped to learn, it is not out of the question that they figured it out anyway and thus their self-reporting was skewed by expectations.
Also, among both groups , the total time spent watching increased by about 10 minutes by the end of the study, although among the control group, that time was taken up by violent shows which was not the case for the group whose viewing was moderated.
Another researcher who was not involved in this study but also focuses his work on kids and television commended Christakis for taking a look at the influence of positive TV programs, instead of focusing on the impact of violent TV.