KIDS
July 11, 2010

Video Games Hurt Kids' Attention

Whether your child is in grade school or college, video games may be just as bad as TV for their attention spans.

Children who watch TV or play video games for more than a couple of hours per day (the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation for a reasonable limit) have twice the risk of developing attention problems down the road, say researchers. The study adds to a growing body of evidence that too much time in front of a screen can lead to attentional problems at a later age – with the addition that video games may be as just detrimental as television.

Children who watched TV or played video games for more than two hours per day had 1.67 times the odds of having attention problems than kids who watched less than that amount. In college kids, this risk rose slightly: they had 2.2 times the risk of having attention problems.

Researchers asked parents and their third-, fourth-, or fifth-graders to rate the children’s daily TV and video game time. To measure attention, the children’s teachers were asked to answer three questions on a scale of one to five – the questions were the following: “This child: has difficulty staying on task; has difficulty paying attention; often interrupts other children’s work.” Another group of students – college students – were also asked similar questions, so that the team could look at how TV and video game exposure affects attention at a later age.

The research team at Iowa State University, led by Edward Swing, a graduate student, found that children who watched TV or played video games for more than two hours per day had 1.67 times the odds of having attention problems than kids who watched less than that amount. In college kids, this risk rose slightly: they had 2.2 times the risk of having attention problems. Interestingly, the grade-school kids and college kids watched TV and played video games for nearly the same amount of time, spending 4.26 and 4.82 hours per day, respectively.

The authors say that their results are particularly important since they show that the “video game association to attention problems was similar in magnitude to the television association.” They add that the findings show that “the risk could be reduced if parents followed the recommendation of the AAP to limit children’s exposure to television and video games to no more than 2 hours per day.“

Does the type of TV show or video game that the child is engaging in matter? Intuitively, it seems likely. The authors speculate that there may be “reasons to believe that slower paced educational, nonviolent content is less likely to cause attention problems, but more studies on this issue are especially needed.”

The study was published in the July 1, 2010 issue of Pediatrics.

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