June 19, 2012 New research out of the University of Cincinnati finds that young children are watching TV, videos and other screen media while parents are trying to take care of other tasks in the home. The research by Sue Schlembach, a recent master's degree graduate from the UC educational studies program, also found that, although parents believed screen media could be used as an important learning tool for their young children, parents may rarely use it for that purpose.
The findings come from a questionnaire answered by 21 people that explored parents' beliefs, attitudes and behaviors into children -- aged six months to five years -- and screen media. The respondents to the questionnaire were overwhelmingly women.
Schlembach was examining four areas concerning children and screen time:
- Did parents believe screen media could be an important educational tool?
- Did they believe it was important to watch programs together with their child?
- Did parents use screen time for instructional purposes, set rules or restrictions on screen use, or mainly use it as a monitoring or recreational activity?
- Did parents have a positive, neutral or negative attitude toward children's screen media use?
Schlembach says her research supported previous national studies that parents may be doing other tasks while young children are watching TV. Furthermore, over half said they left the TV on during meals and 48 percent indicated that often, the TV was on when no one was really watching.
Schlembach says she was interested in exploring parental attitudes about kids and screen time because she was interested in early childhood development -- specifically, young children and implications surrounding the contextual nature of screen use and learning. She says the study also was motivated by American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations that there should be no screen-media viewing at all for children under age 2, and that for older children, parents should engage in viewing and interacting with their children about the program material.
"This is a study that is certainly not meant to judge people, but rather to educate people about what's going on at home," says Schlembach. "For young children, meal time is a really important part of the day. It's a time for parents to engage in conversation with their children, serve as role models for dining behavior and also build on language and social skills.
"Even when parents say the TV is on when no one is watching, the TV is usually set up in the most central gathering location of the home," says Schlembach. "In that regard, a child could be playing with his or her toys in the living room, as a TV program is producing disruptive background noise."
Schlembach says ultimately, she hopes health care providers will talk with parents about screen media time as part of their health checklist, and as part of efforts to educate parents about child development AAP recommendations.
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