Albion Monitor /News
Case Western Reserve University News

Heavy TV Viewing Linked To Psychological Trauma

One-third of the girls and one-fourth of the boys have symptoms of psychological trauma
Watching television more than six hours a day is associated with significantly higher levels of psychological trauma in children, according to a recent study. Among the heaviest TV viewers, one-third of the girls and one-fourth of the boys scored in the clinical range for one or more symptoms of psychological trauma.

"These children are at high risk for having a serious problem and should be assessed by a mental health professional," cautions Mark I. Singer, a professor of social work at Case Western Reserve University.

Nearly one-fourth of the boys and one-fifth of the girls watch more than six hours of television daily, he reports.

Link between program preferences and levels of anger and aggression
Singer used the Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children to measure the youngsters' levels of anxiety, depression, anger, posttraumatic stress and dissociation. For each of these symptoms, girls in the heaviest viewer group scored in the clinical range at two to five times the rate of girls who viewed six hours or less. Fully 33.5 percent of heavy viewers among girls were in the clinical range for one or more symptoms.

The findings do not indicate a causal connection between heavy television viewing and psychological trauma, but rather a correlation that may be partly due to "self selection," Singer says. "Television is a great way to numb out, to escape," he explains. "Kids who have pre-existing depression or anxiety can literally numb themselves and make problems go away temporarily by watching large amounts of television."

However, other studies have found that long hours of passive TV viewing ultimately increase levels of psychological trauma, he adds. "When you watch hours and hours of television, it doesn't lift your depression," he says. "It makes it even worse."

The researchers found significant correlations between program preferences and levels of anger and aggression.

"Both boys and girls who preferred shows with lots of action and fighting -- the high-violence programs -- had significantly higher anger scores compared to other students," Singer says. "They also reported more aggression towards others."

The researchers found significant correlations between television viewing habits and levels of parental monitoring based on seven criteria such as whether the parents set and enforce curfews, if they know where their children are at all times, and if they know who their child's friends are.

Children who are not closely monitored watch significantly more television than those who are, and more of them prefer shows with lots of action and fighting or music video shows. "For example, 58 percent of the girls who report low parental monitoring preferred violent TV or music video television, while half as many, or 29 percent, of the highly monitored girls preferred such shows," Singer says.

The 2,244 youngsters in the study were third through eighth grade students in 11 schools, found in rural, urban, and small city locations. Their ethnic classifications were 57 percent white, 33 percent African-American, 5 percent Hispanic and 9 percent other.

Less than 1 percent do not have a television, while 70 percent have TV with cable or a satellite dish. Fifty-five percent have cable with movie channels or a satellite dish. Based on other surveys, Singer notes, "Violent program content is related to the type of hook-up you have." On premium cable stations, 85 percent of programs contain violence, compared to 59 percent of programs on basic cable, and 44 percent of programs on broadcast networks, he says.

As with Singer's earlier study of 3,700 high school students, the researchers also studied the children's exposure to violence (either as victims, witnesses or perpetrators) and the correlation of this exposure to psychological trauma levels.

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Albion Monitor August 13, 1997 (

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