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April 2006

Is Television Viewing Associated With Social Isolation?Roles of Exposure Time, Viewing Context, and Violent Content

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Center on Media and Child Health, Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160(4):387-392. doi:10.1001/archpedi.160.4.387

Objective  To estimate associations between children's peer integration and amount of time they spend (1) watching television, (2) watching violent television, and (3) coviewing television with friends.

Design  Survey using nationally representative data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics–Child Development Supplement Wave 1.

Setting  Nationwide survey of families with young children performed in 1997.

Participants  Of 3562 children, 1356 had sufficient data for inclusion in analyses (563 children aged 6 to 8 years and 793 children aged 9 to 12 years).

Main Exposure  Total time viewing television, with and without friends present, and time viewing violent and nonviolent television content.

Main Outcome Measure  Amount of time children spent with friends as reported in two 24-hour activity diaries.

Results  Viewing violent programs (but not nonviolent programs) was negatively related to time children spent with friends (aged 6-8 years, unstandardized regression coefficient [β] = − 0.34, 95% confidence interval [CI], − 0.59 to − 0.08; aged 9-12 years, β = − 0.41, 95% CI, − 0.65 to − 0.18). More time viewing television with friends was associated with more time engaging in other activities with friends (aged 6-8 years, β = 0.98, 95% CI, 0.61 to 1.36; aged 9-12 years, β = 1.03, 95% CI, 0.72 to 1.34).

Conclusions  The more time that children spent viewing violent programs, the less time they spent with their friends. While this study cannot determine the direction of effects for this relationship, a cyclical process between violent media and peer integration best explains the findings. To optimize social development and mental health, children's access to violent media should be limited.