Your parents were right

Turns out your parents were right, new research shows watching too much TV is bad for you.  This week on Radio Live Tony and I talked about the research that was in the news this week out of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study. (Click here for audio of the interview)

This world famous “longtitudinal” study that has followed 1000 children born in Dunedin in 1972-73 and measured all sorts of health outcomes from then until now. (Click here for the article)

Their results are quite specific: every hour of television you watch per day on average (if you are aged between 5 and 15) increases the chances of a criminal conviction by 30{1b812f7ed7a77644fff58caf46676f6948311bf403a3d395b7a7f87010507f87}.  And those results have been “controlled” for other variables such as socioeconomic status and parenting factors.  And it’s not related to what you watch, just the fact you do watch.  These are pretty solid results and good quality science.

So what else might be going on here?  Well we also know that there is a clear relationship between television viewing under the age of two and delays in language development along with behavior problems .

Recently the American Academy of Peadiatrics (click here) updated it’s official advice for under two’s to include all electronic screens and also cautions against passive viewing: that is having television on in the room but not actively watching it.  Most guidelines also agree to limiting all screen time under five.  (for more check out John Medina’s excellent “Brain Rules for Baby” see: www.brainrules.net).  You might like to know that there is also exactly zero evidence that DVD’s and educational programs marketed at children under two works.  Zero.  And generally people who say there is, are trying to sell you something.

Humans learn from other human’s, not screens.  It’s the interaction that grows our brains more than the information and language development is directly linked with how many spoken words we hear from other humans.  Toddlers and infants need people talking to them and interacting with them.

One last thing I think is relevant and that’s the ideas around mindfulness and particularly flow which I talked about a few weeks ago. (see: “Go with the flow“). The flow researchers are quite clear in their research that TV is a “low flow” activity.  It tends to not hold all our attention and as an activity is negatively associated with life satisfaction and happiness.  Of course it is possible to get really engaged in an enjoying show or sports event, but that is not the norm.

TV is a distraction.  Often a very pleasant one.  And a quick look at the comments on articles like the ones linked in this blog will show that parents can get very defensive and polarised on this issue: no one likes being told what to do.  But the science is convincing and not saying that “TV is bad” (OK maybe your parents weren’t right…) but simply that like all things moderation is required, especially for our kids.

What I think we can take away from this study and others like it is limit your kids passive screen time, and investing time paying attention and relating mindfully to our kids is the best parenting tool we have.

“Screens” can’t do that.

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