November 23, 2009

Preschoolers Watching More TV In Daycare

A new study has doubled previous estimates of time spent watching TV by children in home-based child care settings.

Writing in the December 2009 issue of Pediatrics, lead author Dr Dimitri A. Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Research Institute and professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, found that many youngsters in child care facilities are spending more than twice the amount of time in front of the TV as previous estimates of early childhood screen time.

Previous studies estimated that preschool kids watched 2-3 hours of television per day from home, but researchers said those estimates were derived from data that is more than 20 years old.

Those previous estimates had relied on parental reports of in-home viewing time. However, researchers said the majority of preschoolers are now being cared for by someone other than a parent.

Researchers studied TV viewing routines in 168 child care programs located in Michigan, Florida, Washington and Massachusetts, 94 of which were home-based programs and 74 were center-based.

Participants were asked if they used TVs, videos or DVDs in their classrooms. Those who responded yes were asked for which age groups television was used, and for approximately how many hours each week in each age group.

The study found that among preschool-aged children, those in home-based daycares watched TV for 2.4 hours per day on average, compared to 0.4 hours in center-based settings.

"It's alarming to find that so many children in the United States are watching essentially twice as much television as we previously thought," said Christakis.

"Research continues to link excessive preschool screen time with language delay, obesity, attentional problems and even aggression depending upon content. At the same time, studies show that high quality preschool can be beneficial to children's development. Unfortunately, for many children, the potential benefits of preschool may be being displaced by passive TV viewing. I suspect many parents are unaware of the frequency and extent of TV viewing in day care settings. Hopefully, these findings will serve as a wake up call for them."

"I think most parents expect their child's preschool environment to provide opportunities for cognitive stimulation, social interaction and physical activity. Television is a poor substitute for all of these," said Christakis. "We are increasingly technologizing childhood, which may prove harmful to the next generation of adults. Parents and health care providers should know how many total hours of screen time and what programs constitute children's media diet, just as they should know how many calories and what foods they're ingesting per day."


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