There have been over 1,000 studies on children's exposure to violence on television, at the movies, or in video games. Most find that violent content does increase aggressive behaviors. But for the first time, there is evidence that decreasing television exposure can actually help third and fourth graders unlearn aggressive behavior. The study results are published in January 16 issue ofArchives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
Interview with Dr. Emily Senay
At the end of six months, kids who participated in special classes reduced TV viewing by one third and were 25% less aggressive as rated by their peers, and verbal aggression like teasing and threatening were reduced by 50% on the playground. An added benefit is that kids on the program also lost weight.
Researchers talked to teachers to go through a series of classes to talk about and monitor how much TV the kids were watching and how much video games they were playing. Then they went to a 10-day tune up challenge where they challenge the kids for not watching television for the whole 10-day period. They followed that by continuing classes encouraging them to watch no more than seven hours of TV per week. They got the parents involved by sending out newsletters. They actually put these machines in the kids' home that actually would not allow the TV to be turned on if they exceeded a certain amount of time per week.
The parents do not really notice the difference in their kids' behavior in a specifically significant way. When kids act out, they tend to do it around their peers in schools. So it makes a lot of sense that their peers would be the ones to notice the difference. Researchers got the peers to rate their behaviors at the beginning of the study and at the end of the study, confidentially. It is a good indicator who is the most aggressive kid and who were the kids that were acting out. Most interestingly, those kids who were rated more aggressive were the ones who showed the most decrease in their aggressive behaviors after going through these programs.
The authors of the study recommend that the ideal TV viewing time for kids should be no more than seven hours per week. Remove TV out of the kids' bedrooms. Find ways to challenge kids not to watch TV with something interesting to do.
Advice from the author of the study, Dr. Tom Robinson, assistant professor, Pediatrics and Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine.
There are hundreds of thousands of studies documenting exposure to violence in the media and aggressive/violent behavior, this is the first one to reduce exposure. o, it's looking for a solution to the problem by reducing exposure. We are the first ones to show the effects are reversible.
Other studies have looked at specific programming and media, but we were non-specific with parents about what type of TV and video. We were not assuming parents would have the same values we have. There is aggression and violence in almost all genres of TV and videos. So, instead we focused on total amount of viewing and let kids and parents decide how to partition that.
Kids in some places have 70 channels, some use the clicker, and others don't. It's hard to know what kids are watching. Even some ads are violent."
It's up to parents to decide, first, what fits in with their values. Some parents are not concerned about violence, but are worried about sex, others don't think ads are a problem. I think the first thing is that they hould realize this is positive news. It means that we can reduce aggressive behavior in kids. So, the first thing to see is the solution.
In terms of specific steps, I would suggest that kids stay within a television budget. Adopt a budget of 7 hours a week, an hour a day, to any TV or video exposure. The idea is to whittle down their viewing and gaming to what they love not to whatever is on.
Twenty to thirty percent of kids' waking hours are spent in front of TV, between ages of 2 and 18. Instead of saying let's teach kids to be critical viewers of TV and video, instead, what if we try to reduce the exposure?
Another thing parents can do is to take televisions out of bedrooms. In our sample, 43% of 3rd and 4th graders had TVs in their bedrooms. In a national Keiser study, 53%, between ages 2-18, had TVs in their bedroom. Parents lose all control as to what kids are watching when TVs are in bedrooms.
Kids gained about two pounds less, on average, than kids in the control group, and an inch less in waist circumference.
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