I love my kids’ babysitter. Once a week, she wrestles with my two-year-old son and plays trains with him as he talks endlessly about the adventures of Thomas the Train and Thomas’s best friend, Percy. She cuddles my special needs daughter like her own and takes extra time feeding her — a challenge since chewing isn’t my daughter’s strong suit. Leaving for work is just a little bit easier each week knowing my children are in good hands.
But it’s the one thing she doesn’t do when she watches my munchkins that often bothers me: she never seems to turn off the television.
Planted in the corner of her family room amid baskets of toys, books and other kid stuff is a large screen TV. Every time I’m there the television is stationed to the latest talk show or rerun of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” I know she doesn’t watch TV the entire time she’s babysitting because my kids are too active for anyone to sit still for very long and expect their house to still be standing. If anything, I’m pretty sure the TV is just a massive source of background noise. And I can appreciate that. Anyone who has spent an entire day watching toddlers — craving an adult conversation, even if it is just the witty banter of the “Gilmore Girls” – can appreciate that.
But a new study shows kids are being exposed to an alarming amount of “secondhand” TV these days. Conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina Wilmington who interviewed a national sample of families about their television habits, the study found that the average child between the age of eight months and eight-years-old is exposed to four hours of so-called background or “secondhand” TV each day. Exposure levels were even higher for kids under the age of 2, African-Americans, and kids from lower-income families.
All that background TV has consequences: It can detract from play, homework, family time and possibly have consequences on kids’ well-being, research has found.
The newest study about background TV exposure will be published in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics.
And while it may seem like a no brainer, other smaller studies have linked background TV to shorter attention spans, lower quality parent-child interactions, and poorer academic performance, but research is still in the early stages on that.
Regardless, I’ve realized I have good reason to ask my babysitter to turn the television off.