TV often gets a bad rap for the effects it has on children, often for good reason. In terms of child behavior, previous research shows that kid viewers emulate the behavior they see, both good and bad. Now, new research shows that TV might actually do kids some good—if screen time offers quality programming.
The study, published in the March 2013 Pediatrics, found that parents can improve their preschoolers' behavior by changing the TV shows or videos they watch. When parents in the study were assisted in replacing violence-laden shows with quality programs that promote prosocial behavior—such as ones that role model nonviolent conflict resolution, cooperation and empathy—their young children exhibited lower levels of aggression.
Both a control group and an intervention group of kids were studied, and both spent more time in front of the TV than they did before. But the telling finding is that it's the content, not the amount of TV each child watched, that made the difference in behavior.
For those of us who sometimes plant our kids in front of a screen so we can get a few things done around the house, this is good news. The study suggests that we can turn TV into a beneficial experience for our kids as long as the content is high-quality and exhibits positive social behavior. There are experts who will still argue, with good evidence behind them, that the amount of TV time plays a role in kids' behavior and habits. But for now we can be comforted that quaility TV content offers positive behavioral payoffs for our kids—and for everyone around them.