(Photo/Getty Images)

(Photo/Getty Images)

Kids are watching 4 hours of background television a day, says study

Adults may think they’ve mastered the art of tuning out the television set during dinner or while doing the dishes, but new research shows that children are exposed to more background television than ever before, thanks to their parents’ casual television consumption habits.

Research asked approximately 1,454 American parents how much background television their children ages 8 months through 8 years old were exposed to. They found that the average American child is exposed to 232.2 minutes – close to a whopping four hours – of background television a day.  Children under age two and African-American children were exposed to more background television – 42 percent and 45 percent respectively, than the average child.

Latino children were included in the study to be presented at the International Community Association’s annual conference next month, but study authors did not examine ethnic groups separately. Background television – defined as the amount of indirect exposure a child experiences while engaged in another activity – has long been the subject of debate by academics, who argue that its effects can be linked to lower sustained attention, lower-quality interactions and reduced cognitive performance.

“We expected background exposure to be high, but we were definitely surprised to find that on average, children under eight years old were exposed to four hours of background television as opposed to just one hour of foreground television,” said study author Matthew Lapierre, a doctoral candidate and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication.  “And we definitely think that it’s probably due to a few straight-forward habits that parents can try to change.”

With children under two years old consuming as much as 5 ½ hours of television daily, it definitely might be time to rethink automatically turning on the small screen, says Federico Subveri, PhD, a professor at Texas State University-San Marcos’ School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“Casual background television consumption has been a habit among Latino families for years,” remarked Dr. Subveri. “Families come home and turn on the TV to babysit or just as they eat dinner go about evening routine. Even when kids are doing homework, it’s there.”

Dr. Subveri suggests that parents instead use the television set purposefully, using it as a way to interact with their children. “Exchange opinions and thoughts about the Latinos or lack of on the shows they’re watching. It’s a way for children to be conscious about what they’re consuming rather than being absorbed in it as truth.”

He also says parents should reconsider allowing children access to bedroom television sets. “While a half hour of shows like ‘Dora the Explorer’ are fine, parents really need to monitor how much television children are watching and how much.”

“It’s really detrimental to the positive development of our children and their ability to engage in creative activities.”


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