Thursday, 10 May 2007

Electronic babysitters raise a generation of TV devotees

Just under half of 3-month-old infants are regular viewers of TV, DVDs or videos, a recent survey has found. By the age of two, researchers say, 90 percent of children would have become devotees of the idiot box.

Conducted in the U.S. by researchers at the University of Washington (UW) and Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute, the study has been touted as the first to investigate the media diet of infants who are too young to speak for themselves.

Through random telephone surveys of more than 1,000 families with children under the age of two in the U.S. states of Minnesota and Washington, researchers found the median age at which infants were regularly exposed to media was 9 months.

Among those who watched TV, DVDs or videos, the average daily viewing time jumped from 60 minutes per day for those children younger than one year to more than 90 minutes a day by two years.

"Early television viewing has exploded in recent years, and is one of the major public health issues facing American children," said Frederick Zimmerman, lead author of the study and a UW professor of health services.

"Exposure to TV takes time away from more developmentally appropriate activities such as a parent or adult caregiver and an infant engaging in free play with dolls, blocks or cars," he said.

A majority of parents cited a belief in the educational properties of media as a reason for permitting their children to watch TV, while others believed viewing to be enjoyable or relaxing for the child. About one fifth of parents surveyed admitted to using electronic media as a babysitter, so they could focus on other chores.

While Zimmerman agreed that appropriate television viewing can be helpful for both children and parents, he warned that excessive viewing before the age of three has been shown to be related to attention problems, aggressive behaviour, and poor cognitive development.

Developmental psychologist Andrew Meltzoff, a co-author of the study and co-director of the UW’s Instutute for Learning and Brain Sciences said: "Most parents seek what's best for their child, and we discovered that many parents believe that they are providing educational and brain development opportunities by exposing their babies to 10 to 20 hours of viewing per week."

"We need more research on both the positive and negative effects of a steady diet of baby TV and DVD viewing," he said, "but parents should feel confident that high-quality social interaction with babies, including reading and talking with them, provides all the stimulation that the growing brain needs."

More information is available from the University of Washington’s press release.

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