A Bit Too Much TV for Tots

Television for young children totals nearly four hours a day

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Are you used to having the television on all the time, just for a little background noise? That may not be a big deal — unless you have small children in the home.

A recent study found that children are exposed to about 27 hours of background television every week.

Other studies have already shown a negative association between background television and children's play or ability to think.

"Turn off your TV."

This study, led by Matthew A. Lapierre, MA, in the Communication Studies department at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, surveyed U.S. parents to find out how much background television their children were generally exposed to.

The telephone survey was of 1,454 parents or caregivers who had at least one child between the ages of 8 months and 8 years old.

The parents were asked to keep a 24-hour diary of how much "background television" their children were around.

Background television refers to times when the television is on but the children are doing another activity.

The survey revealed that the average child is exposed to nearly four hours (specifically 232.2 minutes) of background TV a day.

Younger children and African-American children tended to be exposed to more background television than older children or children of other non-Black ethnicities.

Kids under age 2 are exposed to about 42 percent more background television than the average child, and African-American children are exposed to about 45 percent more.

The situations that were most likely to involve background television exposure for kids were leaving on the TV when no one was watching and having a television in a child's bedroom.

While background television may not seem on the surface to be such a bad thing, past research has found that it is linked to negative effects on kids' play and cognitive function.

"Background television exposure has been linked to lower sustained attention during playtime, lower quality parent-child interactions and reduced performance on cognitive tasks," the authors wrote in their background information.

"Research on background television exposure suggests that its prevalence in young children’s everyday life is concerning," they wrote.

The authors' recommendations are for parents to turn off the TV when no one is watching and/or to turn it off during mealtimes, bedtime, bath time and other specific activities for kids.

The study was published October 1 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by a combined grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting System for the Ready to Learn Initiative. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 10, 2012
Last Updated:
October 11, 2012