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Babies Saturated With Media

It has been known for quite some time that older children are savvy with computers, DVDs, VCRs and all the gadgets of the electronic age.

But now there's a new report on how much children (ages 6 and under) use the media, and the information may surprise you.

Victoria Rideout, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the lead researcher of the survey says, "Among all kids 6 months to 6 years old, they're spending about an average of two hours a day watching TV or videos, or playing video games or using the computer, about the same amount of time they spend playing outside. It's quite a bit more than they spend reading each day."

This study of media habits, called "Zero to Six: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers," was done in conjunction with the Children's Digital Media Centers. It is based on a telephone survey of more than 1,000 parents.

Rideout tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm, "I think a lot of parents believe that the TV shows that are targeted to little kids and the videos for little kids are actually educational and helpful to their children."

But, the study notes, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television whatsoever for children under 2.

Rideout explains why: "The interesting thing about the kids under 2 is that, because that age is so critical to children's cognitive development, their brains are actually still being formed. The American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested no TV or video for kids under 2. They stress that the most important thing is to have human interaction with the parents. Yet, in any given day, two-thirds of the kids under 2 are watching TV and videos and doing it for an average of over two hours, so it's something that parents need to take a close look at, and I think the research community really has to look and see what the impact of all that electronic media is on such little babies."

The survey found young children are able to work TV remotes, play DVDs, point and click a mouse and put in their own CD ROMs on the computer. They spend about two hours daily with what's called screen media. They also spend about two hours playing. What is interesting, Rideout says, is the media saturation.

Ninety-nine percent of homes had televisions, 73 percent had computers and 63 percent of the computers had Internet access, but only 34 percent of the families had a newspaper subscription. The television was on at least half of the time in 65 percent of the households studied. In 36 percent of the households, it was kept on almost all of the time.

Rideout says, "We looked at the kids who were in the homes with the TVs on all of the time and compared them to other kids their age in homes where it's not on all of the time as sort of that background kind of wallpapering watching of TV. What we found is that the kids in the heavy TV households spend a lot more time watching TV, not surprisingly. They spend less time playing outside each day. They spend less time with books. When they do sit down and read a book, they do it for a short amount of time. And they're less likely to be able to read. Now, we don't know that the fact that the TV is on a lot in the background has anything to do with the reading, but we do see a lot of correlations there and so it's something that has raised a red flag for us."

The survey doesn't include value judgments or pronouncements on what's good or bad, just information. But now that there's data available, it's hoped researchers can determine, among other things, how the type and amount of media use affects early childhood development, both cognitive and social. (There had been information on older children's media use, but the slate was virtually blank for little children 6 and under.)

The report suggests it may be time to research some of the questions raised by the findings:

  • Does the presence of background media affect babies and toddlers as they try to learn language and develop physical coordination?
  • Does time with media take away from time spent outdoors or with parents and, if so, what effect does that have on development?
  • Does the fast-paced content of today's television affect attention span?
  • Is early computer use related to academic achievement later in life?
The report suggests some measures parents can take if they're concerned about over use, such as turning off the television when no one is watching, getting televisions out of children's bedrooms, and setting rules for media use.