Don't Overdose on Cartoons

Extra TV time for toddlers linked to poorer vocabulary and math scores in kindergarten several years later

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Fond memories of Count von Count may be how many people remember first learning about numbers. Educational shows like Sesame Street may be helpful for school success, but too much TV in general may not.

A recent study found that children who watched extra TV when they were 2 years old tended to have poorer vocabulary and math scores in kindergarten. For each extra hour of TV time over the average, the children's scores were slightly lower.

More than two hours of TV a day at age 2 also was linked to less engagement in school and a higher likelihood of being bullied at age 5.

"Limit your child's TV time."

This study, led by Linda S. Pagani, PhD, of Research Group on Teaching Environments at the University of Montreal in Quebec, Canada, looked at whether time children spent watching TV was related to their readiness to enter kindergarten.

The researchers followed 991 girls and 1,006 boys in Quebec, Canada, from 2.5 years old through 5.5 years old.

The researchers gathered information from the parents on how much their children watched TV each week as toddlers.

Then, this data was compared to the children's test scores on vocabulary, math and motor skills three years later.

The researchers also compared kindergarten teacher reports on the children's social and emotional functioning to the children's amount of time watching TV when 2 years old.

Overall, the children as a group watched an average of 12.4 hours of TV each week. This is a similar amount to what has been reported for this age group in the US.

However, about 30 percent of the children watched an average of more than two hours of TV each day.

The researchers found that every additional 1.2 hours of TV watching when kids were 2.5 years old was linked to decreases in their test scores for vocabulary and number knowledge in comparison to children who watched TV less.

Each additional 1.2 hours of TV watching was also linked to a 5.2 percent decrease in classroom engagement scores and a 9 percent decrease in children's gross motor skills (movements requiring large muscle groups or whole body movement).

Children who had watched more TV as toddlers were also more likely to be bullied by their classmates several years later in kindergarten.

These links between TV watching at age 2.5 and kindergarten performance at age 5.5 existed after the researchers took into account several other factors that could affect the children's performance.

The researchers had taken into account the children's mothers' level of education, the children's sex, the extent to which the children had been prepared for literacy, the children's temperament and any dysfunction in the family.

The researchers concluded that these findings "...suggest the need for better parental awareness and compliance with existing viewing recommendations put forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)."

The AAP recommends that children under the age of 2 should not watch TV or use other screen-based media at all. After age 2, the AAP recommends that children should have no more than two hours of "screen time" each day.

The authors of this study did not suggest that any TV watching is a bad idea for kids. They simply noted the need to limit it.

"Although watching preschool programming has some merits and benefits for 3- to 5-year-olds and exposure to physical or psychological violence should be discouraged, questions have been raised about whether too much televiewing has a negative influence on preparedness at kindergarten entry," the authors wrote.

This study was published August 7 in the journal Pediatric Research. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

The research was funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Review Date: 
August 13, 2013
Last Updated:
August 15, 2013