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Published February 20, 2013, 11:32 PM

Hot Topics: Educational TV tied to fewer behavioral problems in children

Upping the educational value of what young children watch on television and choosing to avoid violence-prone programming may help improve their behavior, according to a U.S. study that looked at several hundred preschoolers.

By: Reuters, INFORUM

Upping the educational value of what young children watch on television and choosing to avoid violence-prone programming may help improve their behavior, according to a U.S. study that looked at several hundred preschoolers.

It can be hard to encourage families of preschoolers to turn off the television, but there are plenty of high-quality shows that promote learning and positive relationships rather than violence, researchers wrote in Pediatrics.

“Although clearly kids watch too much, equally concerning is that they watch poor-quality shows,” said lead researcher Dimitri Christakis, from the University of Washington in Seattle.

His initial survey of parents of 3- to 5-year-old children showed the children often watched everything from aggression-laden cartoons to full-length violent movies that are “totally inappropriate,” Christakis told Reuters Health.

For their study, he and his colleagues randomly split 565 preschools into two groups. In one group, parents recorded notes about the children’s normal TV viewing, without receiving any guidelines to reduce or change those habits.

In the other group, researchers made visits and calls and sent monthly newsletters encouraging parents to replace violent TV with educational programming – including specific program schedules and recommended shows, such as “Sesame Street,” “Dora the Explorer and “Curious George.”

“It’s not just about reducing the exposure to on-screen violence, it’s about promoting pro-social programming,” Christakis said. “We’re actually them examples of good behavior, of how to cooperate, how to share.”

After six and 12 months, parents reported their children’s angry, aggressive or anxious behaviors on a questionnaire. At both time points, children in the TV intervention group had slightly fewer problems than those in the comparison group.

Low-income boys seemed to benefit most from the change in programming.

“The point is, this is something that is as effective as other things we do to try to modify behavior in children, and it’s fairly simple,” Christakis said.

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