The BBC offers an interesting report on a new study that puts research claiming that too much "screen time" creates attention deficit disorders in young children on its ear, though researchers still say that screen time for children should be limited. The Medical Research Council (MRC) team, headed by Dr. Alison Parkes and Jane Gentle from Mumsnet England, studied more than 11,000 primary school students to determine a link between bad behavior to TV viewing and video game playing.
Although researchers said that they did find a slight correlation between the two, they also found that other influences like "parenting styles" are more of a cause than regular long periods of screen time. The reason they continue to advise less screen time is because it cuts into other important activities like spending time playing with friends, doing homework, and spending time with parents and siblings.
"We found no effect with screen time for most of the behavioural and social problems that we looked at and only a very small effect indeed for conduct problems, such as fighting or bullying," said lead author Dr. Alison Parkes.
For the MRC study, published in Archives of Diseases in Childhood, Dr. Alison Parkes and her team asked mothers in the UK to give details about their child's TV viewing habits and general behavior. The data showed that two-thirds (65 percent) of 11,014 five-year-olds included in the study watched TV between one – three hours a day, while 15 percent watched more than three hours a day, and less than 2 percent watched no television at all. Watching more than three hours TV a day at this young age predicted a slight increase in "conduct" problems by the age of seven. These children were slightly more likely to get into fights, tell lies or be bullies than their peers, according to their mothers' reports.
Time spent playing computer games seemed to be different from TV viewing time in that it did not cause these same kinds of behavior at age 7, according to researchers. Researchers also noted that there was no association between TV or any screen time and other issues such as hyperactivity or problems interacting with friends.
Dr. Parkes, who serves as the head of the MRC's social and public health sciences unit in Glasgow, said that it was wrong to blame social problems on TV.
"We found no effect with screen time for most of the behavioural and social problems that we looked at and only a very small effect indeed for conduct problems, such as fighting or bullying," she said. "Our work suggests that limiting the amount of time children spend in front of the TV is, in itself, unlikely to improve psychosocial adjustment."
She added that "interventions" that delved into family dynamics and the child were more likely to make a difference on dealing with bad behavior.
Many other academics and medical professionals in the UK think this study's finding are important to deal with the real root of bad behavior in children, instead of pointing fingers to find a scapegoat:
Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics, said the findings were a "good reason to ask why some children spend so much time watching television."
Prof Annette Karmiloff-Smith, of Birkbeck, University of London, said that the focus on TV and video games as causes for problems in children would be better shifted to what positive impact they could have on children.
Finally, Professor Hugh Perry, chair of the MRC's neurosciences and mental health board, thinks that entertainment is part of a complex puzzle that needs to be examined more closely:
"We are living in a world that is increasingly dominated by electronic entertainment, and parents are understandably concerned about the impact this might be having on their children's wellbeing and mental health," he said. "This important study suggests the relationship between TV and video games and health is complex and influenced by many other social and environmental factors."