YOUNG children can watch up to three hours television a day with little effect on their communication skills.

University research found that most five-year-olds who watch programmes for less than three hours each day are more likely to be able to communicate effectively by the time they reach secondary school.

A study of 5,000 children by researchers from Newcastle University and Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, found that the impact of TV on communication skills varies, making little difference to children who already have higher language skills.

Lead researcher Prof James Law, from Newcastle University, said: “The television effect was a very interesting finding and we saw it had a bigger impact for the children with lower language skills, but made little difference to those who had higher levels of language.

“Television isn’t the enemy.

“My personal view is that it’s how you watch it that’s important.

“If you’re actively watching a programme with your child and you’re talking about what’s happening, you’re asking and answering questions, then I think that’s fine and it will be a positive experience for both of you.

“It’s when children are sat in front of it for hours with no input – in effect an electronic babysitter - that I think it becomes problematic.”

The study found that poverty and the more siblings a child all contributed to language development by the age of 11.