Context: There is controversy over whether childhood television viewing causes attention problems. The findings from cross-sectional and longitudinal studies have been mixed. To our knowledge, no longitudinal studies have assessed the impact of children's television viewing on attention problems in adolescence. The objective of this study was to assess this association.
Design, participants, and setting: Study members were a general population birth cohort of 1037 participants (502 female) born in Dunedin, New Zealand, between April 1972 and March 1973. Parental estimates of children's television-viewing time were obtained at ages 5, 7, 9, and 11 years. Self-, parent-, and teacher-reported attention problems in adolescence were obtained at ages 13 and 15 years.
Results: The mean of hours of television viewing during childhood was associated with symptoms of attention problems in adolescence. These associations remained significant after controlling for gender, attention problems in early childhood, cognitive ability at 5 years of age, and childhood socioeconomic status. This association was also independent of adolescent television viewing.
Conclusions: Childhood television viewing was associated with attention problems in adolescence, independent of early attention problems and other confounders. These results support the hypothesis that childhood television viewing may contribute to the development of attention problems and suggest that the effects may be long-lasting.