printer-friendly version   Printer-Friendly Version  

How Television Worsens ADHD

The home environment of a child can play a significant role in reducing or worsening the symptoms of ADHD.  A study published in the April 2004 issue of the scientific journal Pediatrics shows that television viewing in children aged 1-3 increases the likelihood of forming attention problems by the time they are 7 years old.  Follow-up research shows that habitual television viewing at such a young age also contributes to learning problems and cognitive disorders by the time children start attending school.

Children two years old and younger are at a critical developmental stage when their brain’s physical size triples.  This growth happens very rapidly and their experiences shape the “wiring” in the brain, which in turn affects their language abilities, cognitive function, visual development, and social development.  Although studies show that television viewing improves school performance in children aged 3-5, this only happens because they’ve already established their language skills and cognitive faculties.

So how exactly can television viewing put a child at risk for ADHD? The flashy images and loud colors of cartoons and children’s shows produce a transfixed, zone-out gaze as the child tries to comprehend the images. However, these images move too quickly, and the brain works double-time to understand what’s happening.  Since these changes are drastically different from how events unfold in real life, the child focuses without actually comprehending or concentrating on the image.  This phenomenon is also called the orienting reflex, and it can contribute to a child’s shortened attention span and impatience with the dull, unexciting real world.

This is not to say that television viewing should be completely avoided by children.  Certain TV shows can help develop children develop their language skills, especially if the content, quality, and pace are conducive to learning.  However, experts suggest no television viewing at all for children aged two and younger so that their brains can develop without the chaotic and exciting imagery offered by TV shows.  Once they become old enough to watch TV, establish boundaries for how long they can watch TV. You can also combine good TV shows with good parenting. For instance, if Sesame Street teaches your child the letter C, you can bring the lesson to life by talking about cookies or cats.  Or if a TV show has your child excited about lions, borrow a picture book from the library or schedule a trip to the zoo over the weekend.  Certain activities like day trips or reading books can stimulate a child’s interest in the real world, and are related to increased attention in childhood.