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Study: American Parents Using TV as an Electronic Babysitter


Television has become such a major part of life that many American parents use it as a babysitter, and that has child psychologists concerned. A new study shows that almost one-third of families have TVs in children's' bedrooms, and the number of television programs geared toward infants is growing. VOA's Melinda Smith has more on the recommendation of how much TV should be allowed, and at what age.

Katie Weaver has her hands full. Four children in her kitchen ... two of them are hers ... all of them are under the age of six ... and thirsty at the same time.

It's enough to get on the nerves of any adult. Like many of the 1,000 parents surveyed in a Kaiser Family Foundation study, Katie admits she sometimes uses TV as a pacifier when her children are overly-excited ... and it usually works.

"I don't use it as a babysitter because they don't watch enough or long enough for that, but if they are very hyped up ... sometimes I'll use TV to calm 'em down," she said.

While there has been some concern that watching too much television fosters obesity in children, the long-term effects of parking a very young child in front of the 'tube' are not clear.

Child psychologist Stanley Greenspan is worried that some parents are taking the easy way out.

"A lot of them are two-parent working families, so we're talking about having very little time with the children, and if that time is used in front of a screen, rather than interactively ... it's compromising the way these children are learning to pay attention ... the way they're learning to problem-solve ... and most importantly, the way they're learning to think and use language," he said.

Katie Weaver's two children - five-year-old Andrew and three-year-old Daisy -- watch an average of an hour a day, five days a week. It is the same for friend Jack and brother Carter who are visiting.

In the survey, parents of children much younger ... up to a year old ... report viewing averages of an hour per day. For kids one to two years, it's close to an hour and a half.

Greenspan believes babies and children under the age of two should not be watching at all and he's worried that some parents are concealing the real truth.

"If anything, it's an underestimation, because people would be aware that for kids under one, it's not the greatest thing in the world, so they would tend to ... if a kid's watching two hours, they might say an hour ... so I think what we're getting is a minimal estimate," he said.

Television programming for very young children has been increasing. Yet one researcher involved in the Kaiser study says there is still no evidence that children up to the age of two learn anything of value from television. Katie Weaver says her kids have too much physical energy to sit and watch television for very long. In warmer weather, they're more often outside.

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