Study: TV can teach empathy to preschoolers

When 3- to 5-year-olds watch less violence on TV and more shows featuring cooperation and friendship, they’re less aggressive toward other children, concludes a study published in Pediatrics.

One group of parents received guides highlighting positive TV shows for children and newsletters encouraging them to watch with their kids and discuss  the best ways to deal with conflict. Researchers called monthly to help parents set television-watching goals for their preschoolers.

The control group got dietary advice, but no guidance on TV watching.

After six months, parents in the group receiving advice about television-watching said their children were somewhat less aggressive with others, compared with those in the control group. The children who watched less violent shows also scored higher on measures of social competence, a difference that persisted after one year.

Low-income boys showed the most improvement.

“It’s not just about turning off the TV; it’s about changing the channel,” said Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, the lead author of the study and a University of Washington pediatrics professor.

Preschoolers average 4.1 hours of television and other screen time daily, according to a 2011 study.

“Law enforcement sources” believe Adam Lanza was motivated to kill Newtown’s children by “violent video games“and his desire to outkill Andres Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer, reports CBS.  “Call of Duty” was his favorite.

About Joanne


  1. Oddly enough, the shows pre-schoolers obsess over (Thomas, Bob the Builder, Dinosaur Train) are also the ones that are low violence….

    I mean, seriously—who’s showing violent TV to their 3 year old? Other than the occasional Disney movie, programming for this age group is ALL about teamwork… and being a very useful engine@!

    • Even classic shows like the Lone Ranger aren’t actually that violent by today’s standards. The Lone Ranger always tries to avoid violence even if the bloodthirsty Tonto eggs him on, and people team up to ‘solve problems.’ (In this case, defeating the bad guys)

    • Teamwork? That’s too closely related to group work in my mind…

      Being a useful engine? Hrmm, smacks of being glad you have a job and hop to it. Is Thomas preparing them to fit into the low expectations work world?

  2. Interesting there was no control group composed of non-tv watchers. I find that rather depressing. Do preschoolers really watch 4.1 hours of television?

    • Probably depends on the socio-economic background. Most of the families I know limit their kids to 30 minutes to an hour of TV a day, unless someone is sick or there’s an emergency. I’m guessing families who don’t limit TV also don’t closely monitor content. Recently, we’ve replaced the limited TV with “Tumblebooks”– kids can’t tell the difference, but a ‘show’ is about 8 minutes instead of 30 minutes, so their TV time has been further reduced….

  3. I wonder if they differentiated between problem-solving shows (my kids favorites were little einsteins and wonder pets) and non-violent social-conflict-oriented shows like angelina ballerina. I banned the latter, because it seemed to be all about the nastiest kinds of social mean-ness among little girls, who then solved their problems and came to some kind of harmony – teaching kids along the way new ideas of how to be petty and mean to each other, that mine hadn’t thought of yet. I love shows like little einsteins because the show looks and sounds exciting enough for kids to want to watch, but the characters aren’t always arguing and making up. They just get along.

    • Yeah, we banned Arthur since it mostly seemed to demonstrate “How to be mean to siblings and other children and freak out over stupid things.” Whenever I let them watch it, I saw a real nosedive in behavior.

      • I have found Blue’s Clues results in the best behavior afterward, although Bob the Builder, Dinosaur Train, and Diego also seem to help my children get along well. Ni Hao, Kailan is a big loser in that area; my kids whine so much after watching that show that we no longer put it on.

        • CyberChase and Team Umizoomi are nice for math type skills. Several shows have been banned for bad influence (we’ve only got Netflix streaming, so things can vanish from the queue in a twinkling! Sorry Timmy, Garfield the cat is on vacation; here, watch Martha Speaks.) Wish we could get Dinosaur Train and Miss Spider.