Wednesday, May 09, 2007

9 out of 10 US babies watch TV

Warning! Mega post!

Press activity around a recent study published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, Television and DVD/video viewing in children younger than 2 years, by a team of University of Washington researchers caught my eye because of one startling statistic - 9 out of 10 children in the United States, under the age of 2, regularly watch TV, DVDs or videos. 9 out of 10.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to gain access to the original research report so the following is based on a Reuters-sourced article from the Sydney Morning Herald. However:
  • 90% of children under the age of 2 years, and 40% under the age of 3 months, watch between 1 and 3 hours of TV per day;

  • only about 50% of the TV was educational, with the rest split between non-educational children's content, baby DVDs/videos and adult TV (I'm assuming this means grown up TV and not a euphemism, which would be just plain wrong; and

  • 29% of parents believed that baby-oriented TV and video was educational, despite the fact that there is no conclusive evidence either way on the issue.
I do have one issue with the research as it was a telephone survey of approximately 1,000 families with young children. I don't trust telephone survey results as much as I would results gathered from a guy with a clipboard. Judging from my own behaviour, it's far easier to deliberately play games with the truth over the phone than it is if the person is right in front of you asking the questions. Be that as it may, the telephone survey is considered a legitimate information gathering technique, so I'll have to accept it.

This particular research doesn't draw any conclusions as to the impact of television. One of the authors, Assoc Prof Frederick Zimmerman, was quoted as saying:
We don't know from the study whether it is good or bad. What we know is that it is big.
Research in the same edition of Archives found that teens who watched three to four hours of TV a day were more likely to have attention or learning problems and less likely to go on to college, with the effects being cumulative the more you watched TV. For example, more than one hour a day had adverse consequences, three hours was much worse, two hours not so bad but worse than one etc. These results appeared to be the same irrespective of socio-economic status.

Zimmerman's staff page summarises some other research of his that indicates that early TV viewing can lead to :
  • developing attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD);

  • exhibiting bullying behaviour;

  • performing poorly in school; and

  • becoming more resistant to parental requests to turn off the TV.

It's no secret that we're not big fans of TV. I am starting to see more and more research that indicates that TV is nothing but bad for children under 2, and only has benefits in moderation (ie less than an hour a day) for older children. I am horrified but sadly not surprised that 90% of babies and infants in the US regularly watch TV and I would not be surprised if that was mirrored here in Australia.

Bugs does not watch TV. At all. We simply do not turn it on when he is awake. He used to watch some TV when he was around 3 months, but that was mainly daytime talk shows while was feeding or DL.TV episodes burnt to DVD while I watched over his playtime when Mummy was teaching students (or taking a nap) but that stopped some months ago. He watches none at all now, and we intend to maintain this as long as possible. I will admit that this is easy for me to say as I don't have to look after him during the day. However, his mother believes in this quite strongly, and I am of the opinion that he won't miss what he doesn't know.

I pass no judgement on other people who choose to let their child watch TV or videos. All I know is that we are doing what we think will work best for our own child, in our individual circumstances. The more research I read, the more I feel that we are doing something that will be good for him long term.

tv screens originally uploaded to Flickr by goldberg. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Edited 1 time 15/5 11:59 to fix a typo


quilly said...

Television is a major time waster.
Television is robbing our children of imagination.
Television gives a distorted view of what is and should be valued.
Electronic entertainments in general have lead to a serious decline in the amount of physical activity children participate in.

This is the survey of a teacher who has been in the classroom for ten years, is 48 years old and fat, yet is much more agile and limber then the majority of her ten year old students.

The Mumma said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Quilly. I made a resolution this year to stop watching so much TV. Some days it doesn't get turned on AT ALL! And the rest of the time it's only on for an hour at night maximum. I don't miss it.

I see the consequences of too much TV and too much junk food all the time. It makes me very sad for the future of our planet if this is what will be perpetuating the majority of the population growth.