Little Kids Still Big On TV

If you think children are doing other things besides watching good ‘ol TV, think again. Yesterday, the TV ratings giant Nielsen released a survey that shows kids are at an eight-year-high for the amount of time they are spending in front of the glowing screen.

How much time? Over one full day per week. For those in the 6 to 11 year old crowd, the total comes to a little over 28 hours. And for the younger aged 2-to-5 set, their faces are glued to the tube a whopping 32-plus hours per week!

To be fair, not all this time is watching standard television. Depending on the age group, between 1 and 2 1/2 hours is spent using the TV with a game console. Another roughly 5 to 7 hours is watching pre-recorded material—either DVD discs of movies and TV shows or programs recorded earlier on a PVR—however one could still argue that’s still TV.

But even accounting for those hours, the vast majority of time—22 hours for the older segment and just shy of 25 hours for pre-schoolers—is spent viewing over-the-air television.

Nielsen charges big dollars to television stations and networks to do these surveys, so they will be the last to bite the checkbook that feeds them. Trying to put a positive spin on things, the report notes, with a tinge of surprise, how very young children are making use of PVRs, DVDs, and other gadgets, and reflects that, “Their considerable use of these devices at a young age points to them being able to adopt new devices comfortably as they grow up.”

In an LA Times article today, Patricia McDonough, Nielsen’s senior vice president of insights, analysis and policy, speculates that perhaps the trend is simply due to an increased supply of programs and DVDs aimed at younger audiences. She also notes that kids aren’t replacing TV time with other media, in fact, “They’re not giving up any media—they’re just picking up more.”

More!? Could there possibly be time for more media? Amazing, it appears so. In addition to all this “good” news, the Nielsen report observes young children, and especially the 2-to-5-year-old group, watch more commercials than teens or adults. They even watch them when viewing TV recorded on a PVR.

While this may be good news in corporate boardrooms (although one day they will have to hire this new generation of possible social misfits), not surprisingly other groups aren’t very happy about the news. The American Academy of Pediatrics spokesman, Dr. Vic Strasburger, doesn’t hold back on his observation of the report.

“I think parents are clueless about how much media their kids are using, and what they’re watching,” he says. A professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, he continues to explain his concerns that parents see all media as “harmless entertainment.”

“Media are one of the most powerful teachers of children that we know of.” Echoing other studies that have concluded that even “good” TV can be too much if not used in moderation, Strasburger concurs, “Even the best—‘Sesame Street’ for 5-year-olds—kids shouldn’t be watching five hours a day. They should be outside playing. They should be having books read to them.”

Other than McDonough’s explanation of increased supply of children’s programming, the report doesn’t offer any other idea as to why the amount of screen time has increased so much this past year. Could it be the recession and more parents having to be outside of the home looking for work, or working? Or are we becoming more complacent with media and too trusting of “children’s” television? (It is also important to note that this report doesn’t indicate these young children are only watching programs made for their age group. Previous viewing studies have often found young children often watch adult oriented programming in the same room as an older viewer.)

The bottom line is parents need to be ever vigilant in maintaining appropriate viewing habits for their kids. Some of the oldest tips in the TV book still hold true:

—Agree as a family how much time everyone gets to watch the TV, and set a timer. A beeping sound will be a more acceptable reminder than dad or mom’s nagging.

—Select shows that are appropriate for your family ahead of time. Use your PVR, VCR or DVD recorder to record those shows ahead of time. This allows you to avoid channel surfing and rearranging your schedule to match the program’s airtime.

—Watch TV with your kids as much as possible. Talk to them about what they are thinking as they view the show. Challenge them to come up with other solutions to the plots or actions they see.

—If need be, pull the cord, hide the remote, and disconnect the cable. Take control! The first response will likely be very painful, but the rewards of having media savvy kids are worth the effort.

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