25 November 2009

Television Viewing Associated With Increased Combative Behavior In Young Children

Recent research suggests that television watching is related to hostile behavior in children under the age of three. While investigators in the current study (published in the November issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine) found that young children who received corporal punishment, resided in a dangerous community, or had a mother who was distressed or under mental pressure were more likely to display aggressive behaviors, they also found that television viewing (both direct and indirect) had a statistically meaningful effect on children’s aggression.

The study, conducted by Dr. Jennifer Manganello- an assistant professor of health communication at the University of Albany School of Public Health- provides results from an analysis of national data collected for over 3,000 children born between 1998 and 2000. Because so many variables can impact a child’s actions, the investigators attempted to control for as many variables as possible, including maternal parenting beliefs, maternal experience with violence, the security of family surroundings and demographic characteristics. Even after weighting for these variables, television was more likely than many other factors to elevate aggressive behaviors.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is disturbed enough about the media’s impact on the behavior of young children that they recently refreshed their protocol on media brutality:

Exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music and video games, represents a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents. Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares and fear of being harmed,” wrote the AAP Council on Communications and Media.

According to Richard Gallagher, director of the Parenting Institute at the New York University Child Study Center in New York City, television is not a harmless instrument- it does have an impact on children and families. While media subject matter may influence actions, Gallagher suggests that children’s behaviors may also be influenced by “opportunities lost.”

In other words, when an infant or toddler is viewing a television show, which is an inactive behavior, the child does not have the occasion to engage with other family members and may have decreased interaction with his or her companions. “The AAP guidelines that children under 2 shouldn’t watch any television may be fairly strict and hard to carry out, but parents should be judicious about how much TV young children are watching, and be aware that it’s not likely to be appropriately stimulating,” stated Gallagher.

Parents should operate as a television “purifier” for their young children. For instance, moms and dads should indicate when something is nonsensical on television and that it is not a real-world situation. Also, if they happen to see something disturbing or violent- even in a television show designed for children- parents need to translate that situation for children, and inform them of what would happen if that were a real scenario.

For more resources on parenting and early child development, please visit The Urban Child Institute’s Parenting Resources webpage at http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/Parenting.


Gordon, S. (2009, November 2). TV may increase aggression in toddlers: The more watched, the more aggressive the behavior, study finds. HealthDay Reporter.

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