Objective: The extent to which early childhood exposure to violent media is associated with subsequent adverse child functioning remains disconcerting. In this study, we examine whether preschool child exposure to what parents generally characterize as violent television programming predicts a range of second-grade mental health outcomes.
Methods: Participants are from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development (N = 1786). At 41 and 53 months, parents reported whether the child had viewed television shows and videos consisting of what they judged as violent content.
Results: According to parents, children watched on average 1.8 hours of mixed programming per day. Parent-reported child exposure to televised violence was associated with teacher-reported antisocial symptoms (β = 0.180, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.026-0.333), emotional distress (β = 0.224, 95% CI: 0.010-0.438), inattention (β = 0.349, 95% CI: 0.048-0.651), and lower global academic achievement (β = -0.127, 95% CI: -0.237-0.017) in second grade. Violent televiewing was also associated with less child-reported academic self-concept (β = -0.175, 95% CI: -0.296-0.053) and intrinsic motivation (β = -0.162, 95% CI: -0.016-0.307) in second grade. Effects remained significant after adjusting for preexisting child and family characteristics such as baseline child aggression.
Conclusions: This prospective study suggests risks associated with early childhood violent media exposure for long-term mental health in children. These findings, suggesting diffusive relationships between early childhood violent media exposure and negative socioemotional and academic outcomes, empirically support the notion that access to early childhood violent television represents a threat to population health and should be discouraged by adult caregivers.