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Is television bad for kids' Yes & no
- Study shows some benefits, but keep the box out of children’s bedrooms

New Delhi, July 4: The debate on how television could affect young children has evolved ' from a simplistic “good or bad” to a complex “what and when”.

New studies released today show that television might influence the learning abilities of very young children and that the position of the TV set at home could affect the scholastic performance of primary schoolchildren.

But the analysis also showed that the impact is not entirely negative and that for kids between three and five, TV viewing has a beneficial effect on basic reading recognition and short-term memory, though not on reading comprehension or mathematics.

Dr Samir Parikh, a consultant psychiatrist at Max Health Care in New Delhi who runs a school mental health programme, also encouraged “participatory watching” by parents.

But studies that appear in this month’s issue of the medical journal, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Health, concluded that television viewing tended to have an adverse effect on academic pursuits.

A study by researchers at Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University in the US has found that children who had TV sets in their bedrooms scored significantly lower in standard school tests than children who did not have bedroom TV sets.

Children who had access to a home computer had higher test scores, said the study that analysed scores of about 350 primary school students in the US and investigated the access the children had to TV and home computers.

A second study by researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle, has found that TV viewing before the age of three might have adverse effects on cognitive development.

While the studies investigated students in the US, psychiatrists here say the findings may be relevant for children in India who in recent years have had increasing options of TV programmes.

“Such studies don’t have a cultural bias,” said Parikh. “Factors such as attention span and distraction are universal and cut across societies and cultures.”

The Stanford-Johns Hopkins study found that students with access to a home computer and without a bedroom TV had the highest average scores, while students with a personal TV and no computer at home scored the lowest.

“This does not prove that putting a television in your child’s bedroom will decrease his or her test scores, but it does add to increasing evidence that it’s not a good idea,” said Thomas Robinson, associate professor of paediatrics at Stanford University.

Children with bedroom TV sets scored 8 points lower in mathematics and language arts and 7 points lower in reading tests. Children with a home computer had 6 points higher in mathematics and 4 points higher in reading tests.

The researchers cannot explain why television sets have such an effect on test scores. They speculate that other factors may be at play. For instance, parents who get a home computer for children and ban bedroom TV sets may be participating more in helping with their children’s education.

“Participatory watching by parents and young children where parents engage in a dialogue with children about the content could have a benefit effect,” Parikh said. “But TV viewing by children in India is often unsupervised and that's bad.”

The Seattle study analysed past TV viewing habits and scores in mathematics, reading recognition and reading comprehension of nearly 1,800 children in the US. It found that TV viewing before three led to adverse cognitive development at the age six or seven.

But condemning television as a vast wasteland would be unfair as programming is not “monolithic”, an editorial accompanying the studies said.

“Parents should be encouraged to incorporate well-produced, age-appropriate educational TV into their children’s lives. Such programming represents a valuable tool for stimulating children’s cognitive development,” wrote Ariel Chernin and Deborah Linebarger of the University of Pennsylvania.

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