Worrying about how much TV your kids are watching? Well it’s not just the quantity but the quality that should be a concern as new research points to fast-paced TV programmes impairing children’s cognitive skills.
So before you stick your kids in front of Dick and Dom consider the findings of research from the University of Virginia in the US.
Psychologists tested four-year-old children immediately after they had watched two different TV shows: SpongeBob SquarePants, the frenetic cartoon adventures of the character and his friends in their underwater world and Caillou, a slower-paced realistic show on US public television. Both groups were compared against a group who had spent time drawing.
After nine minutes watching SpongeBob the children’s ability to pay attention, solve problems and moderate behaviour had all been severely compromised compared with the children who had watch Caillou. There was little difference between the Caillou group and the drawing group.
The tests involved solving problems, following rules, seeing if they remembered what they had been told and could delay gratification.
The lead researcher on the project, Angeline Lillard, psychology professor at the University of Virginia’s College of Arts and Sciences said there were two possible reasons for the negative impact of the faster show on children’s learning and behaviour. “It is possible that the fast pacing, where characters are constantly in motion from one thing to the next, and extreme fantasy, where the characters do things that make no sense in the real world, may disrupt the child’s ability to concentrate immediately afterward.
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“Another possibility is that children identify with unfocused and frenetic characters, and then adopt their characteristics,” she explained.
While the study of 60 four-year-olds focused entirely on the immediate effects of the TV-viewing rather than on any long term effects Lillard points to the importance of this stage in a child’s development and that what they watch may have lasting effects on their lifelong learning and behaviour. She advises parents to think about what they let their children watch.
“Parents should know that children who have just watched SpongeBob SquarePants or shows like it, might become compromised in their ability to learn and behave with self-control,” she said. “Young children are beginning to learn how to behave as well as how to learn.
If a child has just watched a television show that has handicapped these abilities, we cannot expect the child to behave at their normal level in everyday situations.”