Study: Too Many Younger Kids Watch TV

ByScott Terranella

B O S T O N, April 30, 2001 -- The current generation of toddlers is already becoming the next crop of couch potatoes.

A study issued today by the Children's Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati says 40 percent of 2-year-olds are watching a minimum of three hours of television a day.

And as many as 25 percent of 3-years-olds are also sitting in front of the television at least that much.

This is all in the face of the American Academy of Pediatrics' guidelines saying that kids under 2 shouldn't be watching TV at all and those between 2 and 5 should be strictly limited to two hours a day.

"These guidelines are not just for television," says Dr. Daniel Broughton, a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a member of the pediatricians' group committee that devises such guidelines. "Young children should be limited in the total amount of time exposed to all media, including videos, video games, and the Internet, not just television."

These findings about the television viewing habits of young kids were presented today at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Baltimore, Md. The researchers surveyed 2,858 families nationwide.

Television Interferes With Learning

The problem for kids 2 years old and younger, says Broughton, is they are at a critical stage in their development in which they require interaction and stimulation to learn.

"Young kids want to interact with their environment," he says, "but television doesn't interact back. That can be very frustrating for young kids. Rather than actively participating in their surroundings, too much television teaches kids to sit back and passively receive what is being offered."

Youngest kids also cannot distinguish what is real from what isn't. "To them, television is just as real as anything else in their world, such as playing with a parent or a sibling," Broughton says. "They don't have the skills to interpret something they see on TV as being fantasy or make-believe."

While older kids ages 3 to 5 have a better understanding of what they see on TV, he says they don't necessarily realize that much of what they watch is designed to sell them products and a lifestyle.

Why So Much TV?

"This study should at the very least raise the question for parents of 'how much television is my child watching — and why?' " says Dr. Robert Kahn, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati and one of the study's authors.

"Indirectly, one must also ask what is it that communities are not providing that makes infants [and toddlers] watch [so much] television. The question is as much about what these children are not doing in those hours [that they watch TV] as what they are doing," Kahn says.

"As these kids get older, all this time spent in front of the television and the computer pulls them away from activities that require them to interact with other people and with their surroundings," says Broughton.

"Kids need to be stimulated in ways that engage them through interaction with people and books and games, and in ways that teach them creativity and allow them to be physically active."

He says that one of the biggest problems with television is that it has the potential to compromise how young kids learn and relate to the world around them.

Broughton says neither he nor his AAP colleagues advocate people get rid of their televisions and computers, but he says parents need to control what and how much their kids watch.

Selin Tuysuzoglu contributed to this report.

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