Television, ADHD, and other bad things

The Pediatric Insider

© 2009 Roy Benaroch, MD

Steve wanted to know: “I have a 16 month old and I was wondering how much television watching is too much? Also I heard too much TV viewing can lead to ADHD. Is this possible?”

I’ve written about television a few times before—about its association with depression in teens, and why having TVs in bedrooms is a bad idea. Studies such as this one also seem to tie excessive TV watching to symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (though other authors dispute those findings.) The association of TV with ADD seems especially strong if televisions are kept in children’s bedrooms. However, it’s not really clear that excessive television actually causes ADHD—it could be the other way around. A hyperactive, difficult-to-control child may be offered more “screen time” by exhausted parents. Or maybe the association is even less direct. We know that ADD and ADHD run in families, and we know that parents who watch a lot of TV tend to have children who watch a lot of TV, so maybe the excessive TV watching reported in children with ADD just reflects a family habit rather than anything that’s really causing anything else.

There are plenty of reasons to limit television time for children. Besides issues including teen depression and ADD, excessive television watching is also associated with a poor diet choices in preschoolers, more fast food consumption, and difficulty with sleep. Reducing TV time can also both prevent and treat obesity in children.

Need more reasons to turn off the set? How about delayed speech development (also here) in children who watch excessive TV, or an increased risk of psychological disease? Or a greater likelihood of unplanned teenage pregnancy and high blood pressure? I also found studies linking television with an increased risk for asthma and poor bone mineral content. I’m sure there are even more negative associations, but I’ve read enough to convince me many times over: television and especially young children are not a good mix.

Current guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest no television at all for children less than 2 years of age, and not more than 1-2 hours per day of quality, non-commercial television entertainment for older kids. The current average screen time (adding television, video games, computer time, etc) for an American child is over six hours a day—more time, on average, than they spend in school. You can quibble over the exact amount that is “OK”, but clearly there is far too much TV now, and less of it would be a very good thing.

Besides, there isn’t anything good on, anyway.

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