Turn Off the TV for Tots

Fussier and more active babies are more likely to be watching TV

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Children under age 2 should not be exposed to television, recommends the American Academy of Pediatricians. However, many parents do not follow this recommendation.

A recent study sought to find out why, or at least what factors might make moms more likely to turn on the TV for their children.

The study focused on low-income, minority, mostly single moms. The researchers found that the more active or fussier the baby was, the more likely they were to turn on the TV.

It may be that moms are turning on the television to help them manage their child's behavior because they are not sure of a better way to do so.

"Turn off the TV for kids under 2."

The study, led by Amanda L. Thompson, PhD, MPH, of the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, aimed to understand what makes moms more likely to turn on the TV for their babies.

The researchers wanted to better understand what might lead to higher levels of television exposure among young infants, so they studied 217 low-income African-American pairs of moms and their babies.

The moms were young, with an average age of 22, and 89 percent were unmarried. In addition, nearly a third of the women had symptoms of depression (29 percent), and 44 percent were obese.

This population was selected because higher levels of television exposure to children has been identified among minorities and moms with lower incomes and/or lower education levels.

The families were observed in their homes when the children were 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, 1 year and 18 months old. The researchers also interviewed the mothers about TV time on weekdays and weekends.

They asked how often the TV was on, whether a TV was in the baby's bedroom, whether the TV was on during meal times and other related questions.

The researchers also interviewed the mothers about how they perceived their children's mood, activity levels and fussiness.

The researchers found that babies as young as 3 months old were exposed to an average of 2.6 hours a day of television, whether it was broadcast shows or videos.

By the time the children were a year old, almost 40 percent of them were watching more than three hours of TV each day.

However, the percentage of children put in a seat or another device to limit their movement in front of the TV declined as the children got older. While 96 percent of the children were placed in this position at 3 months old, only 34 percent were at 18 months old.

The researchers found that babies who were more active, cried more often or were fussier, according to the moms, were more likely to have higher levels of TV exposure.

Mothers who were obese were also more likely to expose their children to higher levels of television, perhaps to help occupy the more active children, the researchers hypothesized.

The mothers with a higher level of education (such as a high school diploma or some college) were less likely to have the TV on while children were being fed. Interestingly, babies who had a TV in their bedrooms were also less likely to be exposed to television during meal times.

This information may help parents realize if they might be more likely to expose their children to television before children should, according to the AAP, be watching TV.

However, the links between the children's temperament and mothers' likelihood of having the TV on for them may not apply to all populations.

"Although this study provides a unique opportunity to examine the development of TV behaviors among low-income African-American infants, TV exposure is high among this sample, and results may not be generalizable to other samples with lower levels of TV exposure," the researchers wrote.

The study was published January 7 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health through the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The authors declared no financial conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 4, 2013
Last Updated:
January 6, 2013