Are Social Media Making Your Child Aggressive?

Some researchers think it’s possible. A study released in the March 2013 issue of Pediatrics looked at how the content of what preschoolers watch on screen may affect their behavior. “Screen time” was defined as DVDs, videos, TV, and video games.

“Prosocial” shows

The study involved 820 families with children ages three to five years. Half of the group had an intervention in which programming deemed “aggressive” was replaced with “prosocial” or educational content. “Prosocial” content was defined as programs with characters and plots that model behaviors such as nonviolent conflict resolution, empathy, good manners, helping, and group problem solving. The other half of the study group (control group) did not have the intervention but kept a diary of what was watched. Parents of the control group were also encouraged to watch and discuss programs with their children. 

What the researchers found

Follow-up 12 months later found that the children in the intervention group had decreased the amount of time they spent watching violent programming, although they had not reduced the number of total hours of screen time as compared to the control group. In addition, the researchers did find that the kids in the intervention group were exhibiting less aggressive and more "prosocial" behaviors as compared to the controls.

While this study is far from conclusive, it’s worthwhile noting it. Why? Well, for one thing, the amount of screen time that children are watching is staggering. Preschoolers are estimated to watch about four-and-a-half hours per day, and that amount only increases as children get older. For another thing, previous studies have reported that violent TV viewing by children under age five years is a potential risk factor for future bullying and aggressive behaviors.

Certainly it is worthwhile to review what your children are watching and playing with on the screen and to note how much time they are spending with the TV and other electronic devices. I look at that four-and-a-half hours per day statistic for preschoolers and wonder—are there really five hours’ worth of quality material being broadcasted for preschoolers and beyond? I doubt it.

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