Kid's Early TV = Poor Attention Later

Medical Author: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Medical Editor: Frederick Hecht, MD. FAAP, FACMG

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) refers to a family of related chronic neurobiological disorders that interfere with an individual's capacity to regulate activity level (hyperactivity), inhibit behavior (impulsivity), and attend to tasks (inattention) in developmentally appropriate ways. The core symptoms of ADHD include:

  • an inability to sustain attention and concentration,
  • developmentally inappropriate levels of activity,
  • distractibility, and
  • impulsivity.

Children with ADHD have functional impairment across multiple settings including home, school, and peer relationships. ADHD has also been shown to have long-term adverse effects on academic performance, vocational success, and social-emotional development. Children with ADHD experience an inability to sit still and pay attention in class and the negative consequences of such behavior. They also experience peer rejection and engage in a broad array of disruptive behaviors. Their academic and social difficulties have far-reaching and long-term consequences. These children have higher injury rates. As they grow older, children with untreated ADHD, in combination with conduct disorders, experience drug abuse, antisocial behavior, and injuries of all sorts. For many individuals, the impact of ADHD continues into adulthood.

Early TV Watching

Researchers from the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington have reported the results of a study of 1278 children at age 1 and 1345 children at age 3. Their study, published in the medical journal Pediatrics, recorded the hours of television that children watched at ages 1 and 3 years. It was found that the hours of television that the children had viewed per day at ages 1 and 3 years were associated with attentional problems at age 7.

While the authors note that attentional problems that were recorded in their research cannot be interpreted as implying the clinical ADHD developed from television viewing, they do conclude that inattention in subsequent years is a risk factor for television viewing at an early age. They also recommend prevention by limiting young children's television viewing, particularly in the preschool years. It should be noted that this is also the current recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

It is, in fact, possible that early environmental over-stimulation could promote the development of ADHD. This may be the case, especially in the formative preschool years.

Reference: Christakis DA, Zimmerman FJ, DiGiuseppe DL, and McCarty CA. Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children. Pediatrics, 2004; 113: 708-713.

For more information: See MedicineNet.com's ADHD article.


Last Editorial Review: 6/14/2004



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