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Educational TV has positive effects on toddlers and preschoolers

A new study suggests that educational television programs are successful in broadening young children's knowledge, affecting their racial attitudes and increasing their imaginations, according to a study published today in the November issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
November 2006 - Researchers Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH, Michelle M. Garrison, PhD, and Rupin R. Thakkar, MD, of the Child Health Institute, conducted a systematic literature search and identified a total of 376 articles dealing with children and television. Of these, 12 met the criteria of being a controlled trial.

The 12 studies were conducted between 1973 and 2000 and focused specifically on television content viewed by children under age 6 and its impact on learning, racial preference, aggression, pro-social behavior, self-regulation and imagination.

None of these studies looked at infant television viewing or examined the content of videos designed for children.

"The bottom line is that content is key -- high-quality educational programming can have a positive effect on children under age 6," said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.

"However, much more research is needed. It was disappointing that there are so few rigorous controlled trials of something that is so important and so prevalent."

The research found that there is evidence to suggest that educational television programs, such as Sesame Street and Mister Rogers, can aid in the acquisition of general knowledge plus improve overall cognitive knowledge among young children.

There is also evidence in the literature that children's imaginative play can be positively affected by television content. Furthermore, there is evidence that educational television programming that emphasizes diversity can improve children's racial attitudes.

On the negative side, there is evidence that television viewing can increase a child's display of aggression. Children who watch aggressive programs and cartoons with lots of violence can be more likely to engage in aggressive behavior than those that do not.

"This is a good start, but more research is needed on the impact of television viewing and content on infants and young children. Especially as the infant video and cable television markets are exploding, we should be carefully monitoring whether or not these products meet their claims to improve a child's intelligence, language acquisition and pro-social behaviors," said Christakis.

"At this point, we should continue to be cautious about the amount and type of television we let our kids watch."

The study's researchers also stress the importance of AAP recommendations that parents avoid letting their children under age 2 watch television and that parents exert caution -- such as setting limits on TV viewing, helping children develop media literacy skills to questions, analyze and evaluate TV messages, and taking an active role in their children's TV viewing -- for children over age 2.

Researchers were Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH, director, Child Health Institute, University of Washington, Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, and the author of The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for your Kids; Michelle M. Garrison, PhD; and Rupin R. Thakkar, MD, Child Health Institute, University of Washington.

View the study online.

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