Garrison said preschool children interpret many kinds of violence similarly, from slapstick cartoon pranks to true-life gunfights on the news, and found all types disturbed their sleep.
"For 3- to 5-year-olds, they're just really different in how they perceive media content compared to older children," she said. "Older kids can grasp what's real and what's not. To preschoolers, animated violence is just as scary as real violence."
Eighteen percent of study participants experienced at least one sleep problem five to seven days per week, the study said, and the most frequent issue was difficulty falling asleep. Kids with a bedroom TV -- who logged an additional 40 minutes of screen time each day -- were eight times more likely to have parent-reported daytime tiredness.
Michael Gilbert, a senior fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California, said the findings aren't surprising, noting that they confirm prior research and reflect common sense.
But, "it's always valuable to extend our understanding and even just confirm our common sense assumptions," Gilbert said. "We're living in an age of massive data streams invading our worlds and, as always, parents have to shape the flow of information their children consume. The techno revolution we're now living through makes this responsibility ever more difficult to acquit."
Foregoing all media use among children may not be realistic, Garrison said, but curtailing it -- especially in the hour before bedtime -- is probably prudent.
"There are healthy media choices parents can be making," she said. "This gives parents information . . . in terms of preventing problems."
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