Study: Fast-paced TV harmful to kids’ brain development

Kids who focus well in preschool have higher graduation rates, longer marriages

Researchers are warning parents that overstimulating kids through TV can make them more likely to have problems with attention in school. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Could the type of programming your kids watch on TV determine how well they do in school, how successful they are, or how long they stay married?

According to new research, what your child is exposed to from inside the womb until their 3rd birthday matters most when it comes to brain development.

Researchers are warning parents that overstimulating kids through TV can make them more likely to have problems with attention in school. (KOIN)
Researchers are warning parents that overstimulating kids through TV can make them more likely to have problems with attention in school. (KOIN)

Like so many parents, Hillsboro mom Katie Greenwalt told KOIN 6 News she sometimes uses the TV to calm her 3 kids down when she needs to get things done.

But researchers are warning parents that overstimulating kids through TV can make them more likely to have problems with attention in school.

In a popular TED Talk, Dr. Dimitri Christakis said it’s not exactly how much TV a child watches that will impact their future, it’s what they watch.

“There’s a big difference in watching an educational program like Sesame Street or a violent, aggressive, shoot ’em up movie,” Dr. Christakis explained.

In his research, he discovered a big chunk of current children’s programming follows a fast-paced storyline with different images flashing across the screen every few seconds.

“The more fast-paced media children are exposed to early in life, the shorter their attention spans are later,” Dr. Christakis said.

Children sit in front of a TV screen. (blog.lib.umn.edu/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)
Children sit in front of a TV screen. (blog.lib.umn.edu/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Dr. Christakis said, in his research, he found a correlation between overstimulation and an increase in ADHD. The more “unnaturally” overstimulated a child is, the higher their chance of developing conditions like ADHD is.

On the other hand, human-to-human stimulation is very good for development.

He said kids who have the ability to focus well in preschool have higher graduation rates, longer marriages and lower risks of substance abuse.

In tests involving mice, Dr. Christakis said the ones exposed to highly frenetic cartoons showed chaotic behaviors.

Greenwalt said the mice study made perfect sense.

“I can see that in my 6-year-old,” she said. “When he watches things he literally runs around like a crazy person, when he watches mellow things he’s mellow.”

Because of that, Greenwalt said she’s always been very selective about what she lets her 3 children watch on TV. She also makes a point to play with them one-on-one and take them on long walks outside. They’re all things Dr. Christakis says are very beneficial to a child’s development.

Frankie Thevenot, 3, plays with an iPad in his bedroom at his home in Metairie, La. on Friday, Oct. 21, 2011. (AP/Gerald Herbert)
Frankie Thevenot, 3, plays with an iPad in his bedroom at his home in Metairie, La. on Friday, Oct. 21, 2011. (AP/Gerald Herbert)

Still, sometimes reality takes over.

“There are days when I put iPads in front of my kids because, you have to sometimes,” Greenwalt said.

She said the rate at which technology is growing can be scary, and some of the cartoons on TV today don’t even make sense.

“The future is here, we already know that kids are spending as much time on screen as they possibly can, we’ve hit the ceiling,” Dr. Christakis said. “It is scary, and the advice I give to parents now — we used to say limit to 1-2 hours a day — and now my advice to parents is make sure your child is unplugged at least 2 hours a day.”

That’s one of Dr. Christakis’ strongest recommendations, but he also says he understands the reality that not all programming is bad.

He urges parents to look for slower paced, educational programming to help with brain development.

Copyright 2015 KOIN. All rights reserved.

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