More than three hours of TV a day linked to anti-social behaviour in children

Children are at increased risk of behaviour problems if they spend three or more hours a day watching television, an analysis of the Millennium Cohort Study reveals.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow found that children who watched at least three hours of television a day at age 5 were slightly more likely (0.13 per cent) to show anti-social behaviour, such as fighting, stealing or bullying, at age 7. However, too much TV was not found to be linked to emotional or attention problems.

While the association between television and behaviour remained even after taking into account other potentially influential factors, such as household income and number of siblings in the home, the researchers stressed that interventions focused solely on limiting children’s television use are unlikely to improve children’s behaviour.

Almost two thirds (65 per cent) of the cohort children watched between one and three hours of television a day at age 5. Fifteen per cent watched more than three hours a day, while less than two per cent watched no television at all.

The study also looked at the effect of time spent playing video games but did not reveal any link to children’s behaviour. Just three per cent of the children played video games for more than three hours a day.

This is the first study in the UK to take a longitudinal perspective on the effects of television and video games on children’s emotional, behavioural and social development. The researchers emphasise that further investigation is needed to determine the risks of different types of screen entertainment, including violent content.

Do television and electronic games predict children’s psychosocial adjustment? Longitudinal research using the UK Millennium Cohort Study, by Alison Parkes, Helen Sweeting, Daniel Wight and Marion Henderson, was published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, a BMJ-group journal, in March 2013.