TV hinders math achievement

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A long-term study of kids’ television habits shows that toll of watching too much TV is both physical and academic.

TV doesn’t just turn kids into couch potatoes — it also makes them poorer math students, less interested in school and more likely to be bullied, says a long-term study on the toll of the tube on children.

“We see negative effects across the board,” said lead author Linda Pagani of the Sainte-Justine hospital research centre, Université de Montréal.

“Television exposure is a very passive activity both intellectually and physically, and what we see eight years later (at age 10) is that these kids are suffering from the effects of having developed passive habits. They have higher BMI (body mass), less preference for physical activity, they engage in physical activity less and in the classroom their teachers rate them as less persevering, less task-oriented and less autonomous.”

The study, which followed 1,134 Quebec children, looked at their viewing habits at 29 and 53 months, and then their academic and physical development by age 10.

For every hour above the average for television viewing in the early years — which in the study was modest, at slightly more than one hour a day — there was a 6 per cent drop in math success, 7 per cent in classroom engagement as well as a 10 per cent increase in being victimized at school.

The preschool period is a critical time for brain development, as well as a time for learning social skills and building healthy habits for life, Pagani said.

Early math skills are “intertwined with attention and early on if there’s a weak link in that chain of events, it can undermine the long-term” outcomes, she added.

Pagani attributes victimization to the “social isolation effect of watching television” or spending time at the computer — time that isn’t spent interacting with other kids.

“They’re on PlayStation instead of playing with other people,” she added.

Interestingly, the study found no effect on reading by age 10, although Pagani thinks by that age kids have moved on from learning to read to “reading to learn.”

“Common sense would have it that television exposure replaces time that could be spent engaging in other developmentally enriching activities and tasks which foster cognitive, behavioral and motor development,” she added.

If parents are going to allow their children to watch TV, she said they should heed the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics and ban it for children less than 2 years, and limit it to less than two hours a day after age that.

“Beyond age 2, all the way to the end of your life, you shouldn’t have more than two hours of media a day,” Pagani recommended.

The study, funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, is published in the May issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

The children in the study were part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development Main Exposure and data was collected from both parents and teachers.

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