More than two hours of TV per day affects early academic skills in kindergartners, according to a new study by NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development in collaboration with Université Sainte-Anne (Canada). The research revealed too much TV decreases school readiness especially in children from low-income households.
The alarming discovery urges parents to limit the time children spend on watching TV, with emphasis on the guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics on the matter. As of October 2016, these guidelines for kids between 2 and 5 have been updated to maximum one hour of TV daily.
Andrew Ribner, lead author of the study and doctoral candidate in the Department of Applied Psychology at NYU Steinhardt, believes the widespread of smartphones and tablets has extended screen time for young children even more than before. By analyzing data from 807 kindergartners from different socioeconomic backgrounds, his team investigated the link between family income and school readiness in children overexposed to TV.
Prolonged TV Time Affects Math Skills
During the experiment, researchers assessed the children's cognitive and social-emotional competencies, measuring math and linguistic skills, as well as their executive function (memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control).
The results indicated that watching TV for more than two hours daily diminishes math skills in kindergartners and reduces their executive function, which is perceived as crucial for school readiness.
However, the study's conclusions, featured in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, were considerably in the case of letter and word knowledge. Not only was there no negative relationship found between television viewing and language skills, but scientists also hypothesize that educational programs for children may in fact help improve literacy among the very young.
The research focused solely on TV time, without examining the impact of video games, smartphones, and tablets.
School Readiness In Poor Families Found Lower
The link between television watching and a decrease in school readiness is also influenced by socioeconomic background. The study showed children from low-income families scored lowest in school readiness when their TV time exceeded two hours a day. Kids with middle-income parents reported only a moderate decline in cognitive skills, whereas the academic performance of well-off children didn't seem to be affected at all by watching TV.
Although the research didn't delve into the quality of TV programs or the context in which the kids enjoyed their screen privileges, the authors suggest both these factors may be significant in interpreting the results. The type of content the children watch may explain the disparities on school readiness impact between families from different backgrounds.
One theory is that kids from high-income households may be inclined to watch more educational programs, thereby maintaining and even increasing academic skills, particularly in terms of vocabulary knowledge. Moreover, parents with more financial resources may be able to spend more time with their children, becoming involved in their program selection and providing a context for discussion and explanation while watching TV together.
"Our results suggest that the circumstances that surround child screen time can influence its detrimental effects on learning outcomes," disclosed Caroline Fitzpatrick, study coauthor of Université Sainte-Anne and affiliate researcher at Concordia University.