- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Eight in 10 of the nation’s youngest children — up to age 6 — watch television, play video games or use the computer for about two hours on a typical day. A third live in homes where the television is on most of the time.

Even for the littlest tots, television in the bedroom isn’t rare: 19 percent of babies younger than 2 have one, despite urging from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children not watch any television at that age. So concludes a study that highlights the immense disconnect between what child-development specialists advise and what parents allow.

“My reasoning was that my little boy was extremely intelligent since birth. At 1 year old, he was putting his own DVDs in, skipping scenes,” one mother of a preschooler told researchers with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. “I thought it was a real good thing for him to have his own TV because TV helped him grow at a very young age.”

The number of youngsters glued to the screen hasn’t changed much since the foundation’s first report on the topic, in 2003.

But in the follow-up yesterday, Kaiser asked parents in a survey and in focus-group sessions why they and their children use television and other electronic media the way they do.

“I had this sense of kids clamoring to use media and parents trying to keep their finger in the dam,” lead researcher Victoria Rideout said. “I found that not to be a very accurate picture in most cases.”

Instead, a generation of parents raised on television is largely encouraging the early use of television, video games and computers by their children. These parents say that when they don’t have the time, television and computer games teach their children the ABCs and how to share. Television provides time for parents to cook or take a shower. They use screen time as a reward or, paradoxically, to help children wind down at bedtime.

“There’s this enthusiasm and tremendous lack of concern” about media use, Miss Rideout said.

Where some parents limited scary shows or video games, others found youngsters unfazed. “It’s something gory, but it doesn’t seem to bother her,” said a California mother whose toddler joined her on the couch for “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

Another mother told Kaiser that she stopped watching “ER” reruns when her preschooler tried to give her little brother cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

“What is the impact on little kids of watching shows like ‘CSI’ or ‘ER’?” Miss Rideout asked. “I don’t think we know the answer to that. I don’t know that people really realized that kind of viewing was going on to the degree I think it is.”

The pediatrics group recommends no television or other electronic media for children younger than 2 — advice that 26 percent of parents followed, Kaiser found — and no more than two hours of “screen time” daily for older children.

The organization is not anti-TV, said Dr. Daniel Broughton of the Mayo Clinic, who co-wrote the academy’s recommendations. But before age 2 is time of the brain’s most rapid development, and interaction — live give-and-take that television cannot provide — is crucial in that period, he said. Some studies also link TV watching at younger ages to attention disorders.

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