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Today we will talk about what other effects watching TV might produce on children. Children should be discouraged from watching a lot of television. Many experts and parents agree. But there is at least one circumstance when that might be beneficial, muting pain. A recent study conducted by Italian researchers found that children who viewed cartoons immediately preceding and during blood tests experienced less pain than children whose mothers attempted to distract them during the procedure or children whose mothers were at present but did not interact with them.

The research led by Carlo Brown MD at the University of Sienna is published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. 69 children participated in the study. None received any type of anesthesia. The children and their mothers determine their pain scores. Both the groups whose mothers attempted to distract them form the blood tests and those whose mothers simply observed reported substantially higher pain ratings than the group who watched the cartoons. For that group, the levels of pain were less and the children were better able to tolerate the pain they did experience.

One of the possible explanations is that children might have picked up on their mothers’ anxiety during the procedures, exacerbating their perception of pain. The higher pain level reported by children during mothers’ efforts at distraction shows the difficulty mothers have in interacting positively at a difficult moment in their children’s life, the authors write. However, they stress that the mother’s presence still provided benefits, noting that the children would appreciate not being left alone during the procedures. Indeed, children state that having their parent present provides the most comfort when in pain, say the authors.

Another possibility offered for consideration is the notion that the pleasure of watching TV might release pain-quelling endorphins. Endorphins, biochemical compounds produced by the pituitary gland resemble opiates in their ability to produce analgesia and a sense of well-being. In other words, they might function as natural pain killers. In any case, the study results suggest that health workers should consider allowing children to watch TV during painful procedures to minimize their distress.