• The dangers of TV and video games

    From Archives of Diseases of Childhood, “Do television and electronic games predict children’s psychosocial adjustment? Longitudinal research using the UK Millennium Cohort Study“:

    BACKGROUND: Screen entertainment for young children has been associated with several aspects of psychosocial adjustment. Most research is from North America and focuses on television. Few longitudinal studies have compared the effects of TV and electronic games, or have investigated gender differences.

    PURPOSE: To explore how time watching TV and playing electronic games at age 5 years each predicts change in psychosocial adjustment in a representative sample of 7 year-olds from the UK.

    METHODS: Typical daily hours viewing television and playing electronic games at age 5 years were reported by mothers of 11 014 children from the UK Millennium Cohort Study. Conduct problems, emotional symptoms, peer relationship problems, hyperactivity/inattention and prosocial behaviour were reported by mothers using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Change in adjustment from age 5 years to 7 years was regressed on screen exposures; adjusting for family characteristics and functioning, and child characteristics.

    RESULTS: Watching TV for 3 h or more at 5 years predicted a 0.13 point increase (95% CI 0.03 to 0.24) in conduct problems by 7 years, compared with watching for under an hour, but playing electronic games was not associated with conduct problems. No associations were found between either type of screen time and emotional symptoms, hyperactivity/inattention, peer relationship problems or prosocial behaviour. There was no evidence of gender differences in the effect of screen time.

    CONCLUSIONS: TV but not electronic games predicted a small increase in conduct problems. Screen time did not predict other aspects of psychosocial adjustment. Further work is required to establish causal mechanisms.

    Since we’re never going to have an RCT of TV or video games, these kinds of prospective cohort studies are important. In this one, they followed more than 11,000 children in the UK. They found that watching TV for three hours or more (a day!) at 5 years associated with a higher chance of having a conduct disorder at 7 years versus kids who watched less than an hour a day. How much of a difference? A 0.13 point increase in conduct problems. That corresponds, according to the article, to “0.09 of a SD [standard deviation] increase in age 7 years conduct score. Do you understand now? I don’t either.

    Anyway, the authors said it was a “small increase in conduct problems”.

    Video games? No effect.

    Yes, these are young kids, and it’s unlikely that they have been playing much GTA 5 or Battlefield 4. So I’ll look forward to more data. But that this point, it’s hard to point to a large study like this and find a smoking gun. Figuratively or literally.

    More on this topic here and here.


    • What is a conduct problem? Fidgets too much, likes to talk, speaks loudly, has temper tantrums, wields knives when provoked? How is that defined? And who gets to make the diagnosis? A psychologist, a diagnostician, school counselor, greenhorn teacher, five year teacher, thirty year teacher?

    • I wonder if extensive TV watching ends up being more or less a proxy for income and parental attention — with kids watching a lot of TV being children of low income, single parents; and playing video games means that you are the child of someone who can afford to buy you video games. Just a thought.

      Also, at times, I’ll grow a little concerned about whether my kids are playing too many video games. That concern diminishes when I think about how much TV I watched; and what kind of TV I watched. Video games of pretty much any kind are more mentally stimulating than Gilligan’s Island and Three’s Company.

    • Well as Aaron rightly suggests, when you get your sample size up over 11K, pretty much any difference seen will be significant… Interestingly that the one that was significant was 3+h and less than 1. What happened to the groups in between? Keep in mind they imputed data.

      This is why statistical significance is overrated, and effect sizes are underrated.