SEATTLE – Parents who thought their preschoolers were spending their time in home-based day cares taking naps, eating healthy snacks and learning to play nicely with others may be surprised to discover they are sitting as many as two hours a day in front of a TV, according to a study published today.
When added to the two to three hours many parents already allow at home, preschoolers in child care may be spending more than a third of the time they are awake each day in front of the electronic baby sitter, said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle and a researcher at the University of Washington.
That’s double the TV time he found in a previous study based on parental reports of home viewing, according to findings published today in the journal Pediatrics. The study is the first to look at TV watching in child care in more than 20 years.
The figures come from a telephone survey of 168 licensed child care programs in Michigan, Washington, Florida and Massachusetts. Christakis said he thought television use was probably underreported.
Of the child care programs surveyed, 70 percent of home-based child cares and 36 percent of centers said children watch TV daily. The children were watching TV, DVDs and videos. The study did not track what kind of programs were shown.
“It’s not what parents have signed up for,” Christakis said. “I’m not sure how many parents are aware of this.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages television viewing of any kind in the first 2 years of life and recommends a daily limit of 1 to 2 hours of quality programming for older children.
Children go to day care to develop social skills, build on cognitive abilities and enjoy imaginative play, as well as allowing their parents to work, Christakis said.
“We know what’s good for children and we know what’s not,” Christakis said. “High-quality preschool can make a very, very positive difference. We’re so far from meeting that that we really have a lot of work to do.”
Other research has connected excessive TV watching during the preschool years with language delay, obesity, attention problems and aggression.
Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, wasn’t surprised by the findings, but he was forgiving of the parents and child care providers who put kids in front of the TV.
“In general, we still have a culture that sees television as benign,” said Rich, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard University. “This is an area where we’re learning more and more all the time.”