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DOES EARLY TELEVISION EXPOSURE LEAD TO ADHD?

Although prior research has clearly shown that genetic factors are an important contributor to the development of ADHD, most experts agree that genetic factors are not the sole cause of the disorder.  Some researchers have suggested that early childhood experiences also contribute to attention difficulties and other ADHD symptoms, and that that the combination of genetic factors and environmental experiences may be critically important in the development of ADHD, as well as in its severity and progression. One particular experience that has been suggested to contribute to the development of ADHD symptoms is excessive television viewing, particularly at early ages.  Television is characterized by rapidly changing images and scenes that unfold at a considerably faster pace than events in the real world.  Although this can make TV highly stimulating and attention grabbing, it has been hypothesized that this may reduce children's attention spans for real-world activities that unfold at a slower pace. 

 

There is considerable evidence that children's experience during their early years can influence the development of their central nervous system.  Thus, the types and intensity of early visual and auditory experiences may exert a significant influence on their brain development.  In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents exercise caution in letting children under age two watch television, in part because of concerns about how this may affect early development of the central nervous system.

The important question of whether excessive television viewing in early childhood contributes to the development of ADHD symptoms was examined in a study published in the April 2004 issue of Pediatrics (Christakis, D., et al. 2004. Early television viewing and subsequent attentional problems in children. Pediatrics, 113, 708-713).  Results from this study are based on over 1200 6-8 year-old children drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLYS). This study began in 1979 with a nationally representative sample of over 12,000 14-22 year-olds who were interviewed annually or biennially on a wide range of health related topics. 

In 1986, data collection began on the children of the female members of this sample.  In the current study, mothers rated their child's ADHD symptoms at age 7 using items from a standardized behavior rating scales.  These ratings were then examined in relation to information about the child's exposure to television that had been collected during prior waves of the survey, when children were ages 1 and 3.  Thus, the researchers could examine whether children who had watched more TV at 1 and at 3 had higher ADHD symptom ratings when they were 7. It is important to understand how ADHD symptoms were measured in this study.  This was done by having mothers rate whether each of the following 5 behaviors were either often/sometimes true of their child vs. not true of their child.  The behaviors rated by mothers were:1) has difficulty concentrating; 2) is easily confused; 3) is impulsive 4) has trouble with obsessions; 5) is restless;


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