What Influences Kids' TV Watching?

TV viewing habits of preschoolers influenced by parental attitudes and possibly ethnicity

June 17, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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(dailyRx News) Pediatricians recommend children have no more than one or two hours of screen time a day, including watching TV. But differences in TV watching vary greatly across different groups.

A recent study found that TV watching time is much higher among African American children than among white children.

This difference appears to exist mostly because of differences in income and education though.

Lower income families with lower education watched two more hours of TV a week than families with medium education who were not low income.

"Ask your pediatrician about your child's TV time."

The study, led by Wanjiku F. M. Njoroge, MD, of Seattle Children's Hospital, aimed to better understand children's TV watching habits, especially in light of parents' attitudes toward it.

The researchers analyzed questionnaires and media diaries from 596 Seattle parents of kids aged 3 to 5.

The questionnaires asked about parents' demographics and their attitudes toward media, including the risks and benefits of media for their children.

The media diaries included one week of recording all the programs their children watched.

The researchers found that all the children watched an average of 7.7 hours of TV each week.

African American children watched an average 10.6 hours a week while non-Hispanic white children watched an average 7.2 hours a week.

Multiracial children watched an average 8.4 hours a week, and Asian American/Pacific Islander/Hawaiian children watched an average 8.3 hours a week.

Yet when the researchers took into account the family's attitudes and socioeconomic status, the difference in viewing time between African American children and white children evened out.

However, the researchers wrote that it was hard to separate any possible influence of race/ethnicity on TV watching habits from possible socioeconomic influences.

This was difficult because socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity were so closely related in this population.

For example, 64 percent of African American children were in the low education/low income group, and only 16 percent were in the high education/not-low-income group.

Meanwhile, only 4 percent of the white children were in the low-education/low-income group.

The researchers found that children in non-low-income, high education families watched an average 81 minutes (1.35 hours) less each week than children in non-low-income families with medium education.

Children in low-income, low-education families watched an average 4.5 hours more each week of TV and DVDs than non-low-income children in medium education households.

These differences remained even after accounting for a child's sex, whether a child had a TV in the bedroom, whether a child had siblings or not, the average hours the child spent in daycare and the parents' attitudes toward media use.

In terms of attitudes, African American parents were four times more likely and Asian parents were almost three times more likely than white parents to agree that "educational TV program can help preschoolers play better with each other."

No other major differences across ethnicities were found in parent attitudes, but differences were found based on socioeconomic differences.

For example, families from a low-income, low-education background were half as likely as non-low-income families with medium education to feel confident that they could keep their child busy without using the TV.

Low-income, low-education families were also less likely than non-low-income, medium education families to feel confident about being able to make their child watch less than an hour of TV a day.

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that different attitudes of parents toward TV watching might account for the differences in watching across different ethnicities.

However, it's hard to tell because of the close relationship between socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity.

The study was published June 17 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The research was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
June 15, 2013
Last Updated:
August 2, 2013