Watching television for more than a few hours a day has been linked to reduced school readiness in preschool children, particularly in children of low-income households.
In a new study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, researchers have reinforced the importance of limiting screen time in school-aged children.
Andrew Ribner, a PhD candidate and lead author of the study explains,
“Given that studies have reported that children often watch more than the recommended amount, and the current prevalence of technology such as smartphones and tablets, engaging in screen time may be more frequent now than ever before.”
Researchers studied over 800 kindergarten children and found a negative correlation between watching television and early academic skills. That is, the more kindergarten children watch television, the worse their academic skills are. Smartphone, tablet, and computer use were not included or measured in the study.
In order to assess academic readiness, the study looked at both math and literacy skills, more specifically the children’s knowledge of letters and words. The team also studied the kindergartner’s executive function skills — viewed as essential for academic readiness — which included social-emotional competencies, working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control.
More time spent watching TV was most significantly associated with decreased readiness in math skills and executive function.
The research team then examined whether watching television varied by household income and found that children of low-income families were more affected by the amount of TV they watched, versus their high-income counterparts. In other words, families with an annual income of about $21,000 (poverty line), had larger drops in academic readiness if their children watched over two hours of television a day, versus middle-income households. Conversely, there was no correlation between television viewing time and school readiness in high-socioeconomic homes — around $127,000 yearly.
Although the researchers did not look at what type of shows the kindergartner’s were watching, they suspect that this might have an influence on why children of high-income families seem to be ‘protected’ from the negative effects of television. More specifically, children of affluent households may be watching more educational programming than their low-income counterparts.
In conclusion, the researchers recommend that parents follow the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines for recommended TV watching time. Current AAP guidelines suggest limiting children between the ages of 2 to 5 to no more than an hour of television daily.