Doc: Limit type of kids' TV, not just time

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Two recent studies linking childhood television viewing to anti-social behavior and criminal acts as adults are prompting some pediatricians to call for a national boob-tube intervention.

A commentary published yesterday alongside the studies in the journal Pediatrics lamented the fact most parents have failed to limit their children's television viewing to no more than one or two hours a day as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

On average, preschool-age children in the United States spend 4.4 hours a day in front of the television, either at home or in day care.

"The problem is, they are not listening," wrote Dr. Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital. "With our society of smartphones and YouTube and video streaming, screen time is becoming more a part of daily life, not less."

Now, based on evidence from a University of Washington study, McCarthy and others say pediatricians should focus instead on the type of television children are viewing. Parents should steer children toward educational or "prosocial" programming instead of shows featuring violence and aggression.

"It is a variation on the 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em' idea," McCarthy wrote. "If the screens are going to be on, let's concentrate on the content, and how we can make it work for children."

A study conducted by the University of Otago in New Zealand concluded that every extra hour of television watched by children on a weeknight increased by 30 percent the risk of having a criminal conviction by age 26.

In the University of Washington study, a "media diet intervention" was devised in which parents were assisted in substituting prosocial and education programming. "Although television is frequently implicated as a cause of many problems . . . our research indicates that it may also be part of the solution," authors wrote. -- Los Angeles Times

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