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Attention, Parents! Kids Watch Too Much TV
Parenting Feature Story

Attention, Parents! Kids Watch Too Much TV
Rise in ADHD cases may be tied to youngsters' increased screen time

Attention, Parents! Kids Watch Too Much TV

(HealthDay News) -- Add TV and video games to the list of modern-day distractions that may pose health risks for kids.

Researchers have found that kids who spend too much time in front of the television or playing video games are nearly twice as likely to develop attention problems as kids who don't spend much time with these activities.

"This is an important finding. ADHD [or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder] is 10 times more common today than it was 20 years ago," Dr. Dimitri Christakis, the George Adkins professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and director of the Center for Child Health Behavior and Development at the Seattle Children's Research Institute, told HealthDay.

"Although it is clear that ADHD has a genetic basis, given that our genes have not changed appreciably in that time frame, it is likely that there are environmental factors that are contributing to this rise," Christakis said.

Recent studies suggest that excessive media is part of the problem.

In one such study, researchers analyzed the behavior of 1,300 students in the third, fourth and fifth grades over the course of 13 months, as well as the behavior of 210 college students in a one-time self-evaluation. They compared the behavior of students who watched TV or played video games for less than two hours a day with the behavior of those who got more than two hours of screen time daily.

The study, published in Pediatrics, found that the elementary school students spent an average of 4.26 hours a day watching TV or playing video games. The college students topped that, with 4.82 hours. Overall, the researchers revealed, those whose time in front of the TV exceeded two hours were up to 2.2 times more likely to have attention problems.

Previous research has shown that unmonitored screen time can have additional adverse effects on kids' academic performance, behavior, self-image, nutrition and weight, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Because children and teens are particularly vulnerable to the messages conveyed through television, the academy suggests that parents manage screen time by doing such things as:

  • Setting limits. For children 2 years and older, restrict TV time to no more than two hours a day. Then tell kids to turn off the TV and do something else, preferably something active. Video games should be limited to one hour a day. And for children younger than 2, no TV watching.
  • Previewing. Scroll through TV program listings and read the rating information on video games to limit children's exposure to violence, bad language and sexual overtones.
  • Focus on content. Encourage kids to choose programs and video games that focus on specific interests or activities, or those that have educational content and positive characters. For video games, encourage children to select games that involve more than one player as this helps avoid social isolation.
  • Create "tech-free" zones. Bedrooms, in particular, should be free of TVs, video games or other forms of technology, which can interfere with children's sleeping patterns and have an adverse effect on their health.

On the Web

To learn more about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, visit the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Dimitri Christakis, M.D., M.P.H., George Adkins professor of pediatrics, University of Washington, and director, Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, Seattle Children's Research Institute, Seattle; July 2010, Pediatrics; American Academy of Pediatrics (

Author: Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Publication Date: July 31, 2011

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