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Posted at 1:05 PM ET, 11/23/2009

New study: 'Alarming' TV watching by preschoolers in daycare

By Valerie Strauss

Ground control--we have a problem.

The first study in more than 20 years to examine screen time in childcare settings has found that many really young kids are watching twice as much television as was previously estimated.

And really young kids aren’t supposed to be watching ANY television, pediatricians say.

The study, “Preschool-Aged Children’s Television Viewing in Child Care Settings,” is in the December issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics and available on line today.

It was led by researcher 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.

According to the study, preschool-aged children in home-based daycares watched TV for 2.4 hours per day on average. That compared to 0.4 hours in center-based settings.
With the exception of infants, children in home-based child care programs were exposed to significantly more television on an average day than children in center-based programs:

*infants: 0.2 vs. 0 hours
*toddlers: 1.6 vs. 0.1 hours
*preschool-age children: 2.4 vs. 0.4 hours

“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...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.”

This is why I recently wrote about the problems with plopping really young kids down in front of “Sesame Street,” no matter how cute Elmo may be: Kids under 2 shouldn’t have any screen time. Yes, I know it is tempting when you are exhausted. Still, don’t do it.

Previous estimates of screen time for babies and preschool children relied on parental reports of viewing in the home, yet the majority of preschoolers are now commonly cared for by someone other than a parent, away from home in a child care setting.
The researchers reviewed 168 child care programs located in Michigan, Florida, Washington and Massachusetts, 94 of them home-based programs and 74 center-based.

The impact of home-based versus center-based child care programs differed somewhat depending on educational levels for staff members; having a two- or four-year college degree was associated with 1.41 fewer hours of television per day in home-based programs, but no impact of staff education on television use was observed in center-based programs

Here are recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics on proper television habits for kids:

Avoid TV for children under age two. Choose activities that promote language development and brain growth such as talking, playing, reading, singing and enjoying music.

*Choose age-appropriate programs. Involve parents and older children in setting guidelines for what to watch. Use guides and ratings to help, but beware of unproven claims that programs or DVDs are educational. Even cartoons produced for children can be violent or over stimulating. Make sure all programs or DVDs used at home and also in daycare are appropriate.
*Limit total TV time to no more than two hours per day. Less is better. Be sure to add up TV time at home plus TV time in daycare.

*Talk to daycare providers about your concerns. Find out what children under their care will watch, when and how much. Speak up and set limits. Ask your child what they are watching in daycare, just as you would ask what they eat and what they do.
*Keep the TV off during meals.
*Set “media-free” days and plan other fun things to do.
*Avoid using TV as a reward.
*Turn off the TV when a chosen program is over. Don’t leave the TV on as background filler or while engaging in other activities. When no one is actively watching, turn the TV off.
*Watch TV actively with children. Talk about what you see and engage with children about the content.
*Keep TVs out of bedrooms and sleeping areas.

For more on Education, please see

By Valerie Strauss  | November 23, 2009; 1:05 PM ET
Categories:  Early Childhood  | Tags:  early childhood, television watching  
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