RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—As much as kids enjoy the antics of SpongeBob and other television characters, recent research suggests that too much TV time can bring stress into their lives. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that kids who spend more time watching television or other screen-based forms of entertainment are more likely to show signs of psychological distress.
THE DETAILS: Researchers from the University College of London interviewed the parents of 1,486 kids between the ages of 4 and 12, asking them questions about the amount of time their kids spent in front of screens (including TV, movie player, and video game screens), the amount of time they spent outside, and their diets. The interviewers also questioned parents using a standardized Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire to gauge each child’s emotional situation, any attention deficit problems, interactions with peers, and other psychological stressors; higher scores equaled more stressed-out kids.
The average time kids spent in front of a screen was 2.4 hours per day, with roughly 25 percent of the families reporting 3 hours or more. The more time kids spent in front of a TV or other screen, the less time they spent outside and the higher their scores on the questionnaire—which meant the higher their stress. In fact, the kids who spent the most time in front of screens had scores that were 20 percent higher than kids who devoted the least amount of time to screen-based entertainment.
WHAT IT MEANS: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how watching television stresses kids, says Don Shifrin, MD, an American Academy of Pediatrics spokesman on the media’s impact on infants, children, and young adults. Even something as simple as interfering with a toddler watching her favorite program can cause her stress. “Kids are young and impulsive and don’t want to stop what they’re doing. When you stop the TV, you stop the flow of visual stimulation. That’s a stressor right there,” he says. Even if experts aren’t sure what’s behind this phenomenon, there’s no real downside of limiting your child’s screen time. “Nothing bad can happen from your youngsters not watching a lot of TV,” Dr. Schifrin notes.
Here are some ways to limit screen time and give your kids more time to decompress: