Criminal Justice Assistant Professor Dylan Jackson presents a study that explores toddler TV viewing and later social and behavioral development. Aspects of TV viewing content during childhood could promote or interfere with behavioral development later on in life. Research of TV use among young children and its effects on their development using nationally representative samples is lacking.
Jackson’s study explores the link between three components of TV viewing during toddler years — excessive viewing, unattended viewing, and adult content viewing. The study employs data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort, and a technique called propensity score matching. Propensity score matching, a quasi-experimental design, matches children exposed to the treatment (e.g., excessive TV viewing) and those who are not on their propensity to experience the treatment. Propensity to experience certain TV viewing environments and manifest certain TV viewing behaviors was rooted in a number of factors, including low socioeconomic status, female-headed household, child’s temperament, child’s race, corporal punishment in the household, maternal depression and maternal age.
The results of Jackson’s investigations showed that unattended and age-inappropriate viewing during toddlerhood was associated with increased risk of social difficulties during kindergarten. In contrast, excessive TV viewing among toddlers was not a factor in either social or behavioral issues upon entry into kindergarten. Once the propensity scores were employed, unattended and age-inappropriate viewing during toddlerhood only significantly predicted social difficulties during kindergarten. Examples of social difficulties include not being liked by classmates, not being able to comfort other classmates, not being able to easily befriend classmates, not showing empathy towards classmates, and not sharing with other classmates.
Despite these results, behavioral problems such as aggression, tantrums, and non-compliance, were not significantly related to features of TV viewing in the more expansive propensity models.
In conclusion, Jackson found that an interactive and engaged viewing of age-appropriate content may be a better approach than just limiting TV viewing for toddlers.