Study: Children subject to four hours background television daily

2 Oct

Moi said this in Play is as important for children as technology:

Let’s make this short and sweet. Park your kid in front of the television and you will probably be raising an overweight idiot. Tara Parker-Pope has a great post at the New York Times blog. In the post, TV For Toddlers Linked With Later Problems Parker-Pope reports:

Toddlers who watch a lot of television were more likely to experience a range of problems by the fourth grade, including lower grades, poorer health and more problems with school bullies, a new study reports.

The study of more than 1,300 Canadian schoolchildren tracked the amount of television children were watching at the ages of about 2 and 5. The researchers then followed up on the children in fourth grade to assess academic performance, social issues and general health.

On average, the schoolchildren were watching about nine hours of television each week as toddlers. The total jumped to about 15 hours as they approached 5 years of age. The average level of television viewing shown in the study falls within recommended guidelines. However, 11 percent of the toddlers were exceeding two hours a day of television viewing.

For those children, each hour of extra TV exposure in early childhood was associated with a range of issues by the fourth grade, according to the report published in the May issue of The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Compared with children who watched less television, those with more TV exposure participated less in class and had lower math grades. They suffered about 10 percent more bullying by classmates and were less likely to be physically active on weekends. They consumed about 10 percent more soft drinks and snacks and had body mass index scores that were about 5 percent higher than their peers.

Well duh, people. You probably already knew this. Guess why you have feet attached to your legs? So, you and the kids can walk around the neighborhood and the park. Better yet, why don’t you encourage your children to play.

Alice Park writes in Time about a new study by Professor Matthew Lapierre, Background TV: Children Exposed to Four Hours a Day:

Matthew Lapierre, an assistant professor of communications studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and his colleagues conducted the first study to quantify how much background TV young children are exposed to on an average day. While many previous studies have focused on the effects of direct TV viewing on children’s behavior and development, Lapierre’s was the first to investigate what might be considered “secondhand” TV exposure, defined as any exposure to television that the child is not actually watching.

To the authors’ surprise, in the survey of 1,454 parents with at least one child between the ages of 8 months and 8 years, the scientists found that children were subjected to nearly four hours of background TV a day. “We were all startled by the scale of the exposure in these homes,” says Lapierre, who conducted the research while at the University of Pennsylvania. “We went into the study expecting the rates to be high, but not at the scale we found.”

The households were recruited by a phone survey group, which enrolled typical American families that represented a broad range of demographic variables, from ethnicity to income and education. Parents answered questionnaires about the activities of one of their children in a 24-hour period, and were asked about whether a television was on during any of these activities. On average, background exposure amounted to 232.3 minutes a day, with exposure being greatest for younger children: infants and toddlers under 24 months logged about 5.5 hours of background TV a day, compared with 2.75 hours a day for the oldest children, aged 6 to 8.

Parental influences played the greatest role in determining how much background TV children experienced. Other factors that increased indirect TV exposure included living in a single-parent family, where children were exposed to more than 5 hours a day, compared with 3.5 hours in multiparent homes; lower household income, with children in the poorest families experiencing 6 hours of background TV a day, compared with 3.5 hours among those whose family income reached above the poverty level; and lower parental education, with children of parents with high school diplomas or less being exposed to more than 5 hours a day, compared with less than 2.5 hours a day for those whose parents had more formal education.

The data were alarming given that children under age 6 already watch about 80 minutes of television a day directly; these findings suggest that indirect TV exposure is greater than direct watching, and could have equally, or potentially more serious effects on children’s development. Studies have linked excessive TV viewing with obesity in children, while violent and sexually inappropriate programming has been correlated with behavioral and cognitive problems in young viewers. (In contrast, educational programming has been associated with learning and cognitive benefits.)

Lapierre says that his study also hints at difficulties with executive function and self-regulation among kids who are exposed to more background TV, but those findings are still preliminary and will be explored in more detail in additional studies. While his study did not explore the consequences of indirect TV exposure, previous trials suggest that it can affect children’s concentration and behavior in relationships. In one such study, conducted at the University of Massachusetts, scientists observed parents and their toddlers as one group interacted in the presence of a television and the other group interacted without a TV. In the television group, despite the fact that the parents and children were not watching the programmining, their interactions were less frequent and the children’s play episodes were shorter.


Background Television in the Homes of US Children

  1. Matthew A. Lapierre, MAa,
  2. Jessica Taylor Piotrowski, PhDb, and
  3. Deborah L. Linebarger, PhDc

+ Author Affiliations

  1. aCommunication Studies, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington, North Carolina;
  2. bThe Amsterdam School of Communication Research, Department of Communication Science, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands; and
  3. cDepartment of Teaching and Learning, College of Education, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa

OBJECTIVE: US parents were surveyed to determine the amount of background television that their children are exposed to as well as to isolate demographic factors associated with increased exposure to background television. After this, we ask how certain home media practices are linked to children’s background television exposure.

METHODS: US parents/caregivers (N = 1454) with 1 child between the ages of 8 months and 8 years participated in this study. A nationally representative telephone survey was conducted. Parents were asked to report on their child’s exposure to background television via a 24-hour time diary. Parents were also asked to report relevant home media behaviors related to their child: bedroom television ownership, number of televisions in the home, and how often a television was on in the home.

RESULTS: The average US child was exposed to 232.2 minutes of background television on a typical day. With the use of multiple regression analysis, we found that younger children and African American children were exposed to more background television. Leaving the television on while no one is viewing and children’s bedroom television ownership were associated with increased background television exposure.

CONCLUSIONS: Although recent research has shown the negative consequences associated with background television, this study provides the first nationally representative estimates of that exposure. The amount of exposure for the average child is startling. This study offers practitioners potential pathways to reduce exposure.

See, U.S. kids exposed to 4 hours of background TV daily

It is a happy talent to know how to play.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
American writer


The Importance of Play in Early Childhood Development      

Why Play Is Important For Child Development?

Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills          

The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds

  1. Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd,

  2. and the Committee on Communications,

  3. and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health

Next Section


Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children. Despite the benefits derived from play for both children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for some children. This report addresses a variety of factors that have reduced play, including a hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, and increased attention to academics and enrichment activities at the expense of recess or free child-centered play. This report offers guidelines on how pediatricians can advocate for children by helping families, school systems, and communities consider how best to ensure that play is protected as they seek the balance in children’s lives to create the optimal developmental milieu.

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2 Responses to “Study: Children subject to four hours background television daily”


  1. Common Sense Media report: Media choices at home affect school performance « drwilda - November 1, 2012

    […] […]

  2. If kids must watch television, parents must be selective about programs children watch « drwilda - February 20, 2013

    […] Study: Children subject to four hours background television daily                                                                     […]

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