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Kids exposed to background TV a 'startling' amount, study finds

October 01, 2012|By Mary MacVean
  • Children are exposed to almost four hours a day of background TV, a study says.
Children are exposed to almost four hours a day of background TV, a study… (Tim Boyle / Getty Images )

For every minute children watch TV, they are exposed to about three additional minutes of background  television – a “startling” total of nearly four hours of background TV on a typical day, researchers said Monday.

The totals are likely to be highest if there’s a television in the child’s bedroom or if the TV is left on when no one is watching, the researchers said in an article in the journal Pediatrics. Their study, they said, is the first nationally representative estimate of exposure to background TV.

Parents have frequently been warned not to let children watch too much television – or the wrong shows. But background television also can negatively affect cognitive function and social skills, the researchers said. Background television is when the TV is on in the vicinity of the child but the child is doing something other than watching it.

To compare, children ages 6 months to 6 years watch about 80 minutes of TV a day.

Matthew Lapierre from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and colleagues from other institutions conducted a national telephone survey in 2009 and used a 24-hour diary to figure out what was going on in the homes. Families with a child ages 8 months to 8 years were included.

Among the findings:

  • As children got older, they were exposed to less background TV. So kids 6 to 8 years old were exposed to 163 minutes. Those 8 months to 2 years, 332 minutes a day. The researchers suggested that could be the result of the caregiver wanting stimulation or believing the child would not understand or be affected by the programs.
  • As parents’ education increased, exposure decreased. Children in single-parent households were exposed to more television.
  • African American children were exposed to 5.5 hours a day, the only difference across racial groups, the study said.

The researchers suggested that pediatricians and others should suggest that parents take televisions out of children’s rooms, that the TV be turned off when no one is watching and that parents be mindful of what they watch.

They also said additional research should consider how differing content of background television affects children.

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