The researchers from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the New York State Psychiatric Institute say that the "little intellectual effort" required to watch TV is eating up hours that teenagers should be using for reading and completing homework.
Their findings, which include the claim young people in western nations watch an average of two hours of television every day, are published today in the Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine journal.
More than 675 families were interviewed in the New York area on their children's television habits and any potential problems at school as part of the research conducted between 1983 and 1993.
Follow-up interviews were then conducted in the years 2001 to 2004, with the initial group of children studied – now with an average age of 33 – asked whether they had graduated from high school or attended college.
"Television viewing time at mean age 14 years was associated with elevated risk for subsequent frequent attention difficulties," the authors write, "frequent failure to complete homework assignments, frequent boredom at school, failure to complete high school, poor grades, negative attitudes about school overall academic failure in secondary school and failure to obtain post-secondary education."
And today's study authors also insist that while television watching contributes to learning difficulties, the reverse is not true.
They conclude that their results imply that by "encouraging youths to spend less than three hours per day watching television, parents, teachers and healthcare professionals may be able to help reduce the likelihood that at-risk adolescents will develop persistent attention and learning difficulties".
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