Children who watch excessive amounts of television may be at a higher risk for developing antisocial and criminal behaviors in later life, according to new research out of New Zealand. In fact, according to the study, the risk of having a criminal conviction by early adulthood increases substantially with every hour children spend watching television during an average weeknight
The University of Otago study followed a group of about 1,000 children who were born in the New Zealand city of Dunedin between the years of 1972-73.
Every two years between the ages of 5 and 15, the research subjects were asked how much television they watched. Those who answered that they watched more television were found to be more likely to have criminal convictions and were more likely to have antisocial personality traits later in adulthood.
Associate Professor Bob Hancox of the University of Otago and colleague Lindsay Robertson found the risk of having a criminal conviction by early adulthood increased by about 30% with every hour that children spent watching TV on an average weeknight. “Antisocial behavior is a major problem for society,” according to Hancox.
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“While we're not saying that television causes all antisocial behavior, our findings do suggest that reducing TV viewing could go some way towards reducing rates of antisocial behavior in society,”
The study also found that children who watched more television in childhood were increasingly associated with aggressive personality traits in adulthood. In addition, these children had an increased tendency to experience negative emotions and an increased risk for developing antisocial personality disorders, which are psychiatric disorders characterized by persistent patterns of aggressive and antisocial behavior.
Lindsay Robertson, co-author of the study in the US journal Pediatrics, says it is not that children who were already antisocial watched more television, but “rather, children who watched a lot of television were likely to go on to manifest antisocial behavior and personality traits.”
The researchers also found the relationship between television viewing and antisocial behavior was not explained by socio-economic status, aggressive or antisocial behavior in early childhood or parenting factors. Additional studies have also suggested there is a link between television viewing and antisocial behavior; although very few of them have been able to demonstrate a direct link between the sequences.
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In fact, this is the first ‘real-life’ study that asked about television viewing throughout the whole childhood and looked at a range of antisocial outcomes into adulthood.
While it cannot definitively prove that watching too much television causes the specified antisocial outcomes, the findings are consistent with most of the existing research. The study also provides additional evidence that excessive television watching can have long-term consequences for behavior into adulthood.
The American Academy of Pediatrics officially recommends that children watch no more than one to two hours of quality television programming on a daily basis. Researchers also say these findings support the idea parents should limit children's television exposure.