There have been plenty of studies conducted in the past about the effects of children being exposed to high amounts of television, but for the first time researchers from the University of North Carolina Wilmington have examined just how much background television is being watched by kids.
Background television or "second hand TV" is anytime the tube is playing and it's not being watched, and according to study findings, children are exposed to a ridiculous 232.3 minutes of this type of television per day.
Researchers gathered 1,454 parents who had at least one child between the ages of 8 months and 8 years old, and the study showed that younger children were exposed to roughly 5.5 hours of second hand television a day, and children between the ages of 6 and 8 years old were in the midst of a television playing for 2.75 hours per day.
Overall, children in the 8 month to 8 year age range were exposed to an average of 4 hours of background TV each day, shows the study.
"We were all startled by the scale of exposure in these homes," said Matthew Lapierre, communications professor at University of Carolina Wilmington and lead author of the study. "We went into the study expecting the rates to be high, but not at the scale we found."
The study also showed that family structure, education and race play a significant role in the amount of second hand TV a child watches.
For example, children from single parent homes are more likely to be exposed to background television more frequently, and those children from lower-income households are also more exposed to second hand TV, say researchers.
In addition, parents with higher amounts of education were less likely to use television as a virtual babysitter, and African American children were exposed to higher amounts of background TV compared to other children, the study shows.
Small and easy
Researchers say parents can do small and easy things to dramatically reduce the amount of background television their child is exposed to. First, quite simply, parents should be sure to turn off the television the very moment no one is watching. Also, it's imperative to turn off the TV during meals and bedtimes, especially for smaller children in their developmental stage.
For example, if a parent watches their favorite television program when their child is in their highchair eating dinner, it could be bad for their years of development, researchers say.
The same goes for when you're putting your child to bed. Researchers believe the TV shouldn't be on when you're your child is winding down or putting on their pajamas.
"The thing we find most concerning is that if a child has a television on in the background, then he is hearing things that are supposed to elicit his attention like loud noises, sound effects and beeps," says Lapierre. "So even if they aren't watching directly, they aren't able to engage in play behaviors or interactions with their full attention and have more meaningful experiences."
Researchers also say parents should pay special attention to what they're watching and remain cognizant of the relationship between what they view and the subtle impact it can have on their child. They also say that using the television to always placate your child could do more harm than good.
"This may be particularly effective for parents of the youngest children who may not see their own direct exposure as having an impact on young children or may be using the television for companionship," the authors wrote.
"Considering the rates of background television exposure that we found along with the negative associations that other researchers have found between background television and cognitive and social outcomes, any effort to decrease background exposure seems worthwhile," they said.