OBJECTIVE. Television and video/DVD viewing among very young children has become both pervasive and heavy. Previous studies have reported an association between early media exposure and problems with attention regulation but did not have data on the content type that children watched. We tested the hypothesis that early television viewing of 3 content types is associated with subsequent attentional problems. The 3 different content types are educational, nonviolent entertainment, and violent entertainment.
METHODS. Participants were children in a nationally representative sample collected in 1997 and reassessed in 2002. The analysis was a logistic regression of a high score on a validated parent-reported measure of attentional problems, regressed on early television exposure by content and several important sociodemographic control variables.
RESULTS. Viewing of educational television before age 3 was not associated with attentional problems 5 years later. However, viewing of either violent or non-violent entertainment television before age 3 was significantly associated with subsequent attentional problems, and the magnitude of the association was large. Viewing of any content type at ages 4 to 5 was not associated with subsequent problems.
CONCLUSIONS. The association between early television viewing and subsequent attentional problems is specific to noneducational viewing and to viewing before age 3.