The study, published in a journal called Archives of Disease in Childhood, is the first investigation into the impact of television on the mental health of young children over time.
The mothers of more than 11,000 children were interviewed about the typical hours their children spent watching television or playing games at the age of five and the behaviours they exhibited then, and again at the age of seven.
These behaviours included their emotions, their attention spans, their relationships and their concern for others.
Two thirds of children were found to watch television for between one and three hours a day at the age of five. About 15% watched more than this and only 2% watched less or none.
Those children who watched more than three hours a day were 1.3% more likely to exhibit behavioural problems such as stealing and fighting by the age of seven than those who watched less than three hours a day.
Professor Hugh Perry, of the Medical Research Council, which funded the study, said: “We’re living in a world that is increasingly dominated by electronic entertainment, and parents are understandably concerned about the impact this might be having on their children’s well-being and mental health.”
Interestingly the researchers did not find a link between use of video games and the development behavioural problems. One researcher, Dr Alison Parks, believes that watching TV may have more of an impact because children spend more time doing it. She says it could be a lack of sleep or physical activity which causes these problems, or it could be the content of the television programmes themselves.
If you would like support for your child’s behaviour problems you might find counselling beneficial. To find out more about how counselling works and how you can find a counsellor near you, please visit our Child Related Issues page.
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