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Kaiser: Parents Use Media to Cope with Kids

A new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation titled The Media Family: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Their Parents shows that parents have created homes where televisions are a nearly constant presence, and the parents are increasingly using electronic media to ease hectic family schedules, keep the peace, reinforce routines, and generally cope with the pressures of daily life. And while some may interpret the study as a harbinger of yet another lost generation, parents are also showing satisfaction with educational and developmental benefits of television.

“Parents have a tough job, and they rely on TV in particular to helpmake their lives more manageable,” said Vicky Rideout, vice president anddirector of Kaiser’s Program for the Study of Entertainment Media andHealth. “Parents use media to help them keep their kids occupied, calm themdown, avoid family squabbles, and teach their kids the things parents areafraid they don’t have time to teach themselves.”

The study found that 83 percent of children under the age of six use screen media on a typical day, with those children averaging nearly two hours a day of screen media tim. Usage does vary with age: 61 percent of children one year or younger watch an average of an hour and 20 minutes of screen media on a typical day, while 90 percent of four to six year older watch an average of just over two hours on a normal day.

One child in three has a television in their bedroom, although the numbers again vary by age, with 43 percent of 4 to 6 six year-olds having a TV in their bedrooms. The most common reasons given was to free up other TVs in the house for parents or other family members, to keep children occupied while parents focus on other activities, to help the child fall asleep, and as a reward for good behavior.

Nearly a third of children in the study live in homes where the television is on all or more of the time, and a similar number live in homes where the TV is on during most or all meals. Unsurprisingly, children in these TV-focused households spend more time watching TV than other children: 25 minutes more for children in heavy TV households, and 30 more minutes for children with TVs in their bedrooms.

For all this, parents seem upbeat about the positive impact of television. Two thirds say their children emulate positive behaviors such as sharing or helping that they see on TV. Some 69 percent of parents say computers help children’s learning, although only 38 percent say the same about watching TV. Some 31 percent say watching TV “mostly hurts,” and 22 percent don’t think it has much effect either way.

The study surveyed 1,051 parents and children from six months to six years of age from September to November 2005, and conducted a series of focus groups around the United States.

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