Toddlers who love television
There’s some interesting — and eye-blearing — data in this new report from Common Sense Media about the media habits of very young children. The topline figure is what has advocacy groups alarmed and curmudgeons grumbling about the decline and fall of civilization: Kids watch a whole lot of television. Two-thirds of kids younger than the age of eight watched TV for an average of 1 hour and 45 minutes per day. By contrast, they spent just half an hour a day reading (or being read to). Let the scolding commence. Still, there are a few nuances here.
One thing to note is that a child’s TV-watching habits are heavily influenced by family income and the education level of his or her parents. Wealthier, more-educated parents seem to discourage their kids from watching too much TV (or consuming digital media of any sort). The differences are quite stark: Just 20 percent of children in upper-income homes have TVs in their room, versus 64 percent from lower-income homes.
On the other hand, the amount that a kid reads each day doesn’t seem to be affected by family income or parental education level at all. There are, however, a few racial disparities: the survey found that African-American children seem to read the most each day (about 41 minutes) compared with white (28 minutes) and Hispanic (25 minutes) children. The data also seems to suggest that TV-watching doesn’t necessarily take away from reading time, although that’s not totally clear.
But is this actually cause for alarm? Over at Ars Technica, Jonathan Gitlin says yes, at least as far as children under the age of two are concerned. “There’s now plenty of evidence that these kids should not spend any time at all watching TV,” he writes. “That message isn’t reaching parents, however; 66 percent of children under two have watched TV, even though their brains can’t actually process the information meaningfully. Although the numbers of daily TV viewers age two and under has kept constant between 2005 and 2011, the amount of time they spend in front of the box has risen, from just over an hour to 90 minutes. The number of infants and toddlers with TVs in their rooms has jumped too, from 19 percent to 29 percent.”