Children Get About 5 Hours of Background Television Each Day

A study published in this month’s issue of Pediatrics magazine finds that children are subjected on average to nearly 4.4 hours of background television every day. Furthermore, African-American children are exposed to more than an hour more of background television than average — for a total of 5.5 hours per day.

This background exposure should raise concern among those who already find themselves uneasy with the average of 80 minutes of active TV viewing typically done by children on a daily basis. One of the study’s authors, Matthew Lapierre, an assistant professor of communication studies at University of North Carolina-Wilmington, called the span of time “enormous.”

According to USA Today, the results were presented in May at the International Communication Association and the data was collected using a telephone survey whose sample size was weighted based on the information gathered from the most recent U.S. Census. In all, 1,454 parents were polled, each with at least one child between the ages of 9 months and 8 years.

Among questions that parents were asked: how often their TV was on when no one was watching; whether their child had a TV in their bedroom and the number of TVs in the home.

It found that in addition to actual TV viewing, children under age 2 and African-American children were exposed to an average of 5.5 hours a day of a TV playing in the background; children from the poorest families were exposed to nearly 6 hours per day.

Lapierre said that he wasn’t surprised by the increased TV exposure numbers for African-American families because it has long been suspected that the African-American households typically employ television as a distraction more frequently. However, it wasn’t race, but income level that correlated most closely with amount of TV exposure. Kids from low-income families were exposed to nearly 6 hours of background television daily.

He suspects that the high rate of background TV among very young children may have to do with parents and caregivers leaving the television on, even when they’re not actively watching, to “break up the monotony” of being with an infant or toddler for long stretches of the day.

The study notes that background television exposure has been “linked to lower sustained attention during playtime, lower quality parent-child interactions, and reduced performance on cognitive tasks.”

Heather Kirkorian, who studies human development at the University of Madison-Wisconsin and has published several studies on children’s exposure to background television herself, said that too much television — even when it is not being actively watched — still has an outsized impact on childhood development, especially in the areas of parent-child interaction and childhood independent play.

The study results clearly show that many families do not obey the guidelines set out by the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under the age of 2 should not be exposed to television at all.

10 2, 2012
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