Thursday, April 4, 2002
By Heide Seward, Research Fellow
Parents, Don’t Let Your Children Stay Tuned.
Heide Seward, Research Fellow
A social science study that sought to discover how a difficult childhood effects later mental health has yielded findings that, while unexpected, may not be entirely surprising to many parents. Namely, that too much television viewing is bad for one’s mental health. Previous studies have tended to focus on the effects of violent television programming-on younger children. This is the first study to examine the effects of, not only programming content, but also the amount of television viewing time-on adolescents and young adults as well as young children.
In an article published last week in the journal, Science, lead investigator Dr. Jeffrey G. Johnson of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University, reported that 14-year-olds who watched between one and three hours of TV per day were much more likely to commit acts of aggression by the ages of 16 to 22 than those who watched an hour or less per day. The average aggression rate rose from 5.7 percent for the hour-or-less group to 22.5 percent for the one-to-three-hour group. For those who watched more than three hours of TV, the aggression rate jumped again by more than 6 percentage points, to 28.8 percent. Researchers also looked at the effect of TV viewing time on young adults. They found that the amount of time spent in front of the tube at age 22 could increase the incidence of aggressive behavior by age 30. Among adolescents, the TV-aggression correlation was far more pronounced in boys than in girls. Among young adults, the correlation was stronger among women than men. Researchers did take into account other factors that also can effect violent behavior, such as poverty, childhood neglect, and psychiatric problems in adolescence. They also addressed what they called the “chicken and egg” issue-whether TV viewing causes aggression or people prone to aggressive behavior tend to watch more television. The results suggested that the former conclusion was more likely.
Experts offer the standard caveat that though the study finds a correlation between TV viewing time and aggressive behavior, and though researchers found it is more likely that TV viewing causes aggressive behavior than the reverse, the results do not necessarily prove cause and effect. Nevertheless, the study does add further to previous studies suggesting a link between viewing violent television programming and aggressive behavior. The results also suggest that excessive TV viewing is insidious not only because of the time it takes away from more productive activities (reading, for example). It may actually be harmful for it’s own sake, regardless of the content. Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow of the Beverly LaHaye Institute, noted, “The results of this study further reinforce the importance of parents’ involvement in their children’s lives. Parents can contribute to their children’s well-being not only by monitoring the content of what they watch on television. Parents can also help simply by switching off the tube and encouraging healthier activities for their children.”