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Toddler TV time linked to poorer fourth-grade classroom attention, math and exercise

May 4, 2010 | 12:40 pm

Children who at 2 1/2 logged a lot of time in front of the TV appear to suffer ill effects from the experience seven years later when they're on the threshold of 'tween-dom, a new study finds.

A large-scale, long-running Canadian study of children found that for every extra hour of TV time a toddler watches weekly, she is likely in fourth grade to have lower levels of classroom engagement and poorer performance in math, is more likely to be the victim of bullying, to be sedentary and to have a higher body-mass index. On average, the 1,314 children enrolled in the study watched 8.82 hours per week of television at 29 months. They watched an average of 14.85 hours a week by the time they were 4 1/2 years old -- and higher levels of viewing at this age increased their risks down the road, as well.

"Early childhood television exposure undermines attention," the group says of its findings. While other studies have suggested as much, few have followed children well beyond their early viewing years to gauge the longer-term effect on kids' ability to sit and listen to classroom instructions and stick with a learning task through completion. At 2 1/2,  toddler's brains are laying down the foundation for many of the "effortful control" skills they'll need to learn and prosper in academic settings. So researchers at the Institut de la Statistique du Quebec surmised that tv-viewing rates at that age might have far-reaching effects on performance in classrooms once the material became more challenging.

"Our results suggest that early television exposure could eventually foster risk toward a more passive rather than active disposition when attending to learning situations," the authors write.

Fourth-grade teachers were far more likely to believe a student who had watched a lot of TV as a toddler was or would be a victim of other kids' taunts or abuse. And parents of children who watched a lot of TV were more likely to report that in fourth grade, their child spent more time playing video games, was less physically fit and less likely to be drawn to active pursuits. Not surprisingly, perhaps, those kids also were slightly heavier than their peers who had watched less TV as toddlers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents of children under 2 not to sit their children in front of the television, but it's a recommendation widely disregarded in the United States, where children under 2 routinely log and average of close to an hour and a half of TV a day. A recent study  in Pediatrics found watching TV in the first two years of life conferred no benefits in terms of language or motor skills.

 Here's an interesting view by pediatricians of what kids aren't doing when they're in front of the tube.

--Melissa Healy