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For kids, TV is life's background noise

April 20, 2012|By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • In addition to all the time they spend watching TV, kids live much of their lives with the box on in the background.
In addition to all the time they spend watching TV, kids live much of their… (Ricardo Aranajha )

Just how much of a typical young child's life at home is played out against the insistent drone of a television somewhere in the background? For children 8 months to 8 years, the answer is just short of four hours, says a new study issued by the International Communication Assn., a professional group for scholars studying media and human communication.

That, despite findings that when the television is on, parents tend to talk to and make eye contact with their children less, children are more distracted from activities such as free play and children who have TVs constantly on tend to watch more -- with the consequent rise in obesity and drop in academic success.

And that's on top of the average 32 hours per week that a Nielsen study found children ages 2 to 5 log actually watching TV. (Kids 6 to 11 watched on average 28.)

The first nationally representative effort of its kind found that the average American child 8 months to 8 years old is exposed to 232.2 minutes of "background TV" daily. African American kids' daily exposure to background TV was 45% higher than the national average -- the highest of all ethnic groups polled

For children 8 months and 2 years old, the daily dose of ambient TV was also well above the overall average, about 5 1/2 hours a day. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that children under two not watch any TV at all, and that those between two and four watch no more than two hours daily.

The kids who got the biggest dose of passive screen time daily were those -- wait for it -- whose family acknowledged they tend to leave the TV on in the background. And kids who have a TV in their room -- a choice that increases children's viewing, their unmonitored viewing and their rates of obesity -- also were likely to experience higher levels of daily background TV.

It starts with knowledge, says the International Communication Assn. Now that we know how much indirect TV time our kids soak up, "a simple recommendation for behavior change such as turning off the TV" might be in order, the paper adds.

So simple, and yet, for many families, so hard.

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