- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2007

American parents are more likely to set rules about television viewing for their children than they were a decade ago, a new federal report says.

In addition, more parents are reading to their young children and encouraging their older children to take lessons in music, dance, language, computers or religion, the Census Bureau said in its new report, “A Child’s Day: 2004.”

“It seems that parents are more involved with their kids than they were 10 years ago,” bureau analyst Jane Dye said yesterday.

The Census Bureau issued its first “snapshot” on children”s experiences while growing up with its 2001 report, “A Child”s Day: Home, School and Play.” That report used data collected in 1994.

From 1994 to 2004, the biggest change in children”s family life was with television rules, Ms. Dye said.

In 1994, for instance, only 54 percent of families with preschoolers set rules on what programs can be watched, for how long and when. By 2004, the number of families with TV rules jumped to 68 percent.

Parents were more restrictive with their older children, too, with 71 percent setting TV rules for elementary-school-age children and 47 percent setting TV rules for teens.

Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, sees several reasons why more parents would monitor TV viewing more closely.

Parents have a heightened awareness that TV diverts children from playing and other physical activities, he said. They also are becoming more aware of what’s being shown on TV, he said, adding that there’s an “outpouring of complaints” about graphic violence, profanity and sexual situations.

In addition, he said, parents are unhappy that television is airing salacious material, such as graphic promotions for adult shows, earlier in the day when children will see them, and “making more overt marketing attempts” to young children.

The new census report found that more parents were reading to their young children.

For instance, in 1994, 48 percent of children ages 1 and 2 were read to at least seven times a week; in 2004, this number jumped to 53 percent.

The percent of preschoolers, aged 3 to 5, read to often also rose, from 47 percent to 51 percent, the new report said.

A third significant development was the number of children engaged in extracurricular lessons, Ms. Dye said.

In 1994, about 24 percent of children aged 6 to 11 were enrolled in lessons outside of school, such as dance, music, language, computers or religious instruction. In 2004, the number rose to 33 percent.

The portion of teens with lessons also increased, from 19 percent in 1994 to 29 percent in 2004.

Sports activities are more popular than lessons, with roughly 40 percent of children participating in sports. However, from 1994 to 2004, sports participation didn’t change for 6- to 11-year-olds and it went down a little for teens, said Ms. Dye.

Census data showed that the number of children in the U.S. grew from 68.2 million in 1994 to 73.1 million in 2004.

Figures also showed that:

• The number of children living with married parents was fairly stable — 50.9 million in 1994 and 51.1 million in 2004.

• The number of children living in the wealthiest families — incomes of 200 percent or higher than the poverty line — grew from 37.8 million in 1994 to 42.3 million in 2004.

• The number of children living below the poverty line fell from 14 million in 1994 to 12.9 million in 2004.

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