DESPITE pediatricians' advice to the contrary, most children younger than 2 are allowed to watch television as a way for parents to gain uninterrupted time for chores, or just peace and quiet, according to a report released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Some harried parents, who praised the educational value of certain programs, still described "getting" their children to watch longer videos, DVDs or programs for practical reasons.
The "reigning sentiment" among parents was that "there was simply no way they can live their lives and get everything done without video and TV," the report concluded. Children's educational shows serve greatly to lessen their guilt, it said.
The report, "The Media Family: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Their Parents," is based on a 2005 national telephone survey of 1,051 parents with children ages 6 months to 6 years old and a series of focus groups held in March across the country.
Jumping into the politically hot topic of how to control what children see on television, the report underscored the powerful role parents play beyond simply turning the set on and off. Children emulate their parents' media habits, the report said, and almost a third are exposed to adult content when parents watch their own shows. Conflict over what shows to watch is one reason many young children have TVs in their rooms, according to the report.
In response to the report, Jim Dyke, executive director of TV Watch, a coalition of diverse groups that opposes government intervention in the decency debate, issued a statement Wednesday supporting rating guides and blocking technology such as the V-chip. "No matter where the TV is or how often it's on, parental controls give parents the freedom to control what their kids see on TV," he said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended no media use for children younger than 2 and no more than two hours a day for those 2 and older. Most parents of those under 2 said their children use some screen media, including computers, and 43% said they watch TV every day. More than 40% of those 2 and older use screen media more than two hours a day.
Recently, controversy surrounding babies and TV was fueled by the announcement of a new channel, BabyFirstTV, designed specifically for children younger than 2. The Walt Disney Co. and the makers of "Sesame Street" have also entered the baby video market.
Parents in the Kaiser study were split on whether TV actually helps their children learn. Some were surprised to hear their children using Spanish words or counting.
The report left little doubt, however, that kids remember what they see and hear on commercials. One parent said her child begs for things he sees on TV, such as chocolate cereal. Another said her daughter hums the theme from McDonald's whenever they drive past the golden arches.