NEW YORK — Watching too much television has long been frowned upon when it comes to young children, with research pointing to problems in school for those who pay no mind to warnings. Now a new study finds children in low-income families are most vulnerable to the negative effects of television when it comes to school readiness, while children in affluent homes showed little to no effects at all.
The study was conducted by researchers at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, with the findings published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.
The team of researchers analyzed data from 807 kindergartners who came from diverse backgrounds of income and ethnicity. Their parents were asked about family income and the amount of hours their children watch TV each day.
The children were tested in math, understanding of letters and words, and executive function, which includes working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. These are key skills required for academic readiness, the researchers determined.
After analyzing the data, the team found that students who viewed two or more hours of television daily experienced the most severe academic deficits. These students especially lacked skills in math and executive function, but the severity of their unpreparedness tied in directly to their family’s income.
Kindergarteners in families with lower incomes had a higher correlation of television and declines in academic readiness. The data showed the lower the income, the higher the severity of the student’s preparedness. Yet in homes where a family of four lived off the highest levels of income — measured as around $127,000 per year — there was no effect on the child’s academic readiness when two or more hours of television a day was watched.
“Our results suggest that the circumstances that surround child screen time can influence its detrimental effects on learning outcomes,” says Caroline Fitzpatrick of Canada’s Université Sainte-Anne, who is also an affiliate researcher at Concordia University and a coauthor on the study, in a university release.
Prior to October of 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children over two years old should not watch more than two hours of television each day. They now recommend that kids between 2 and 5 do not view more than a single hour of television daily.
The study did not use data that specified the content that each child viewed. The team acknowledges in the research report that the content viewed may be an important factor for academic success.