Young children who watch less TV more likely to finish college

06/29/05

CHICAGO — Children who watch the most television during childhood and adolescence may be less likely to finish school or go on to earn a university degree, according to a study in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Despite several decades of research, there is little consensus on whether childhood television viewing has beneficial, harmful or negligible effects on educational achievement, according to background information in the article. There have been no previous long-term follow-up studies measuring childhood viewing and later educational achievement.

Robert J. Hancox, M.D., of the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, and colleagues conducted a long-term study of approximately 1,000 children born in Dunedin, New Zealand between April 1, 1972 and March 31, 1973. Information about their television viewing habits was collected at ages five, seven, nine, 11, 13 and 15. Information on the highest level of educational attainment was collected for 980 of the study members (96 percent) at 26 years of age. Measures of other variables that might influence educational attainment, including socioeconomic status, IQ and childhood behavioral problems were assessed at several ages. Childhood television viewing was calculated based on viewing hours per weekday reported at ages five to 11. Adolescent viewing was calculated based on weekday reported viewing at 13 and 15 years of age.

"Analysis of educational achievement using both childhood and adolescent viewing as independent variables found that mean weekday viewing hours at 13 and 15 years of age were a stronger predictor of leaving school without qualifications [lowest level of educational achievement]," the authors report. "By contrast, lower mean viewing hours between five and 11 years of age were a stronger predictor of achieving a university degree."

"The results of this study indicate that increased time spent watching television during childhood and adolescence was associated with a lower level of educational attainment by early adulthood," the authors write. "These effects were independent of intelligence, family socioeconomic status, and childhood behavioral problems."

"Although it is possible that the associations are due to unidentified confounding factors, the findings suggest that the overall effect of television viewing is not beneficial and is likely to be harmful in terms of educational achievement," the authors conclude. "The mechanisms of these effects are yet to be determined, but the findings add further support to the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics that parents limit their children's television viewing to one to two hours per day."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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