TV, Computers Linked to Weak Relationships

Children in recent New Zealand studies who spent a lot of time watching television and using computer games had less attachment to family and peers. The more time teens spend watching television and using computers, the less likely they are to develop close relationships with parents and peers, a study of two New Zealand teen cohorts separated by 16 years found.

According to this report from MedPage Today, for every hour adolescents spent watching television, there was a 13% increased risk of low attachment to parents (risk ratio 1.13, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.26; P<0.05) and a 24% increase in the risk of having low attachment to peers (RR 1.24, 95% CI 1.08 to 1.40; P<0.05). The report is one of the cohorts published online in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

In the second cohort, investigators found that the risk of having low attachment to parents increased by 4% for every hour spent watching television (RR 1.04, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.08; P<0.05) and by 5% for every hour spent playing on a computer (RR 1.05, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.09; P<0.05).

“Screen time was associated with poor attachment to parents and peers in two cohorts of adolescents 16 years apart,” Rosalina Richards, PhD, of the University of Otago in New Zealand, and colleagues wrote.

“Given the importance of attachment to parents and peers in adolescent health and development, concern about high levels of screen time among adolescents is warranted.”

The increase over the past 20 years in the availability and attractiveness of screen time activities such as television, video games, and computers has provoked excitement about opportunities afforded by these options but also concern about whether these displace other activities that are important for health and development.

“One area of interest is how screen time may affect the quality of relationships with family and friends,” the authors wrote.

Richards and colleagues analyzed data from two studies of New Zealand adolescents: the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study from 1987-1988, which included 976 15-year-olds; and the Youth Lifestyle Study in 2005, which included 3,043 students ages 14 to 15.

In the older study, the researchers assessed television viewing by participant self-report of the number of hours that they usually watched television on a school day. In the more recent study, students completed confidential questionnaires that asked about time spent using a broader range of media. Both studies assessed attachment to parents and peers using a shortened version of the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment.

The students in the first cohort visited the research center for a day; the adolescents in the second cohort filled out questionnaires in their classrooms.

In addition to finding that television viewing and computer use were associated with weaker attachment to parents and friends, the researchers found that adolescents who spent more time reading and doing homework had closer relationships with their parents.

The researchers also found an association between video game use and low attachment to parents, but this finding was not significant after adjustment for potentially confounding factors.

The authors noted that their study suggests that teenagers do not need to watch television to relate to their peers.

“Recommendations that children watch less television are sometimes met with the concern that being unable to discuss popular shows or characters may inhibit peer relationships,” they wrote. “The findings herein do not suggest that less television viewing is detrimental to adolescent friendships.”

The researchers cautioned that they did not determine whether heavy television viewing and computer use are the result of poor attachment to parents and peers, or vice versa.

It is possible, they wrote, that “adolescents with poor attachment relationships with immediate friends and family use screen-based activities to facilitate new attachment figures such as online friendships or parasocial relationships with television characters or personalities.”

Other limitations of the study included different sampling and methodologies applied to the two cohorts and lack of information about specific use of computers and video games — for example, Web surfing habits and solo versus online gaming.

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