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Changing What They Watch on the Screen Can Improve Children's Behavior

2/18/2013 For Release: February 18, 2013

As most parents of preschoolers have witnessed, it’s common for children this age to imitate behaviors they see on television or in movies—whether violent, loving or something in between. This effect of media can be applied to positively impact children’s behavior, according to a study in the March 2013 issue of Pediatrics (published online Feb. 18). For the study, “Modifying Media Content for Preschool Children: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” researchers studied 820 families with children aged 3 to 5 years who spent some time viewing screens each week. Through their community pediatric practices, half of the families participated in an intervention in which they replaced aggression-filled programming with “prosocial” and/or educational content for the children. The other half of the families were in the control group. The intervention did not attempt to reduce the number of hours of screen time for the children, but it did encourage a positive media diet and co-viewing with parents. A case manager followed up with families regularly for 12 months. At 6 months and 12 months, the children in the intervention group were spending significantly less time on violent programming than they did at the start of the study compared to the control group. Both the intervention and control groups increased their viewing time slightly during the study, but the control group increased its minutes of violent content, while the intervention group increased its minutes of prosocial and educational content. At 6 months, the children in the intervention group demonstrated significantly less aggression and more prosocial behavior compared to the control group, and the effect lasted throughout the 12 months. The authors concluded that such an intervention can positively impact child behavior.

Editor’s note: This issue contains another article on this topic, “Childhood and Adolescent Television Viewing and Antisocial Behavior in Early Adulthood,” and a related commentary, “Pediatricians and Television: It’s Time to Rethink Our Messaging and Our Efforts.” 



The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. (

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