TV v. Video Games

Quick! Your child is begging you for two hours of screen-time. Which do you allow: TV or video games? (Spoiler alert: the answer could impact his test scores down the track.)

Maybe it’s because of the way most of us grew up - watching Saturday morning cartoons in our PJs or gathered as a family (remember that?) in front of a favourite soapie or quiz show.

At any rate, television is something the adults fully understand. So when it comes to screen-time rankings, most mums and dads would probably opt for TV-viewing over gaming.

Television just feels more benign - less risky - definitely easier to monitor.

But TV’s impact on kids’ test scores tells a different story.

shutterstock_562622320Television-viewing is something most adults think we understand (but do we really?)

New research by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, published this month in PLOS ONE, found kids who watched two hours of TV daily at ages 8 and 9 had significantly lower literacy scores two years later.

How much lower? The equivalent of a full third of a year of learning. 

Nor was there anything unusual about two hours of TV screen-time among Aussie kids. Forty percent of the study group of more than 1,200 children fell into the category. 

Kids who watched two hours of TV daily at ages 8 and 9 had significantly lower literacy scores two years later.

The effects of TV on learning varied with the age of children. At ages 10 and 11, for example, kids who watched more than two hours of TV had lower numeracy scores, but their literacy levels were unaffected.

Kids’ gender, earlier emotional and/or behavioural problems and their families’ socioeconomic status were all controlled for. So was their previous academic performance, to rule out the effect of kids choosing to watch more TV because they were struggling at school.

What about video games?

And what about the impact of video gaming? Perhaps surprisingly, the researchers found no links whatsoever between gaming and academic performance. 

Wondering why? Researchers Lisa Mundy, a research fellow at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and George Patton, professor of Adolescent Health Research at the University of Melbourne, do too. But they speculate that it’s all about the difference between passive and active engagement. 

“Actively engaging with and producing content rather than just passively viewing media is likely to be positive compared with just passively viewing media,” they wrote.

“This may also explain why heavy use of television, which is passive, predicted poor learning but there were no effects when it came to gaming, which is an active use.”

With the explosion in kids’ screen-time during the pandemic - widely estimated to have increased by at least 50% - the implications of these findings are even more serious.

Note the study authors, “our findings highlight the challenges for parents and teachers in guiding children in their use of electronic media. For parents, a family media plan is a useful tool where they can set limits on use, rules around when and where devices can be used, and help a child select quality content where they are more actively engaged.”


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Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Cyber Safety, online gaming, literacy, television, numeracy

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