Kaiser found that 43% of children under 2 watch TV every day and 18% of children watch videos or DVDs every day. All together, 14% of children under 2 see two or more hours of screen media a day, 22% see one to two hours, and 25% less than an hour a day. The report also said 19% of babies under a year old have a TV in their bedrooms and 29% of children 2 to 3 have one.
The study, one of the more extensive efforts yet to track how much time children under 6 spend with various screen media, also reports that 83% under age 6 spend time every day with TV or other screens, and those who watch do so for nearly two hours a day. Media use increases with age, with 90% of 4 to 6 year olds reporting watching or looking at screen media.
The study makes clear part of the high numbers is due to homes where TVs are on all the time, and homes that allow TVs in children's bedrooms. But the report also said parents cite benefits of their young children watching programming. Parents told Kaiser that allowing TVs in the children's bedrooms lets kids watch their own programs; avoid fights with siblings; stay occupied so parents can do things around the house; and help fall asleep. Parents also said they use TV to reward good behavior, and just more than half reported TV tends to calm their children down.
Cause for concern?
The high viewership by the youngest children is seen by some as a cause for concern. The American Academy of Pediatrics has urged no screen time at all for kids under 2, and no more than 2 hours a day for those 2 and older. Based on today's report, most of America is ignoring that recommendation.
As the Kaiser Family Foundation unveiled the report today in Washington, programmers and critics debated the report's meaning. Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a psychiatrist who has written several books about children, warned that TV and media is wrong for youngsters and said it means parents need to get far more information on the dangers of too-early media exposure. He said passive involvement with media is detrimental to children's development, and that young children should spend time experiencing life and problem solving.
"Most parents are being misguided by the information available" on whether TV and videos are healthy for young kids, adding that the right information will allow them to make a "wise choice."
Other researchers and media company executives disagreed that media is "passive" and suggesting it's unlikely the clock is going to get turned back, urged more focus and research on what programming will most benefit kids.
'Technology is not going away'
"The ship has sailed. Technology is not going away," said Alice Cahn, VP-programming and development for the Cartoon Network. "The fact is we need to worry about content and have to stop worrying about whether it's is going to be there."
Ellen Wartella, executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of California, Riverside, who has done research on children's development, said TV isn't passive, but that the study confirms how much families have changed since the mid '50s and the need for more research.
Kaiser VP Victoria Rideout predicted the study would add to the "escalating debate" over children's TV and videos. "There is a big change going on ... a new phenomenon," she said.