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Kaiser Family Foundation study reveals kids as media addicts

WASHINGTON: Tiny tots in America are growing up immersed in media, spending hours a day watching TV and videos, using computers and playing video games, says a study released by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

The study reveals that kids aged six and under spend an average of two hours a day using screen media (1:58), about the same amount of time they spend playing outside (2:01), and well over the amount they spend reading or being read to (39 minutes).

New interactive digital media have become an integral part of childrens' lives. Nearly half (48 per cent) of children six and under have used a computer (31 per cent of 0-3 year-olds and 70 per cent of 4-6 year-olds). Just under a third (30 per cent) have played video games (14 per cent of 0-3 year olds and 50 per cent of 4-6 year olds). Even the youngest children - those under two - are widely exposed to electronic media. 43 per cent of those under two watch TV every day, and 26 per cent have a TV in their bedroom (the American Academy of Pediatrics - urges parents to avoid television for children under two years old). In any given day, two-thirds (68 per cent) of children under two will use a screen media, for an average of just over two hours (2:05).

"It?s not just teenagers who are wired up and tuned in, its babies in diapers as well," said Kaiser Family Foundation?s Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health vice president and director Vicky Rideout who is also the lead author of the study. "So much new media is being targeted at infants and toddlers, it?s critical that we learn more about the impact it?s having on child development," he added.

The study, Zero to Six: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers, was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Children?s Digital Media Centers. It is the first publicly released national study of media use among the very youngest children, from six months to six years old.

"These are astonishing data. Today's preschoolers are starting to use media much younger than we thought,"

said study co-author Ellen Wartella, Dean of the College of Communication at the University of Texas. "Where previous generations were introduced to media through print, this generation's pathway is electronic. This is a trend we must follow," she adds.

The study also revealed that a third of all 0-6 year-olds (36 per cent) have a TV in their bedroom, more than one in four (27 per cent) have a VCR or DVD, one in ten have a video game player, and seven per cent have a computer. Thirty percent of 0-3 year-olds have a TV in their room, and 43 per cent of 4-6 year-olds do.

"When children have TVs and other media in their bedrooms, it's more difficult for parents to monitor what they're doing," noted study co-author and Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Austin Elizabeth Vandewater. "The growing phenomenon of media in the bedroom and its impact on child development is a crucial area of future research."

Computers also take up a considerable amount of the kiddies' time. In a typical day about one in four (27 per cent) 4-6 year-olds uses a computer, and those who do spend an average of just over an hour at the keyboard (1:04). More than a third (39 per cent) of 4-6 year-olds use a computer several times a week or more; 37 per cent in this age group can turn the computer on by themselves, and 40 per cent can load a CD-ROM.

The study also revealed that many children are growing up in homes where the TV is an ever-present companion: two-thirds (65 per cent) live in homes where the TV is left on at least half the time or more, even if no one is watching, and one-third (36 per cent) live in homes where the TV is on always or most of the time (the latter group are considered 'heavy' TV households.)

According to the study, children who have a TV in their bedroom or who live in 'heavy' TV households spend significantly more time watching than other children do, and less time reading or playing outside. Those with a TV in their room spend an average of 22 minutes more a day watching TV and videos than other children do. Those living in 'heavy' TV households are more likely to watch every day (77 per cent vs 56 per cent), and to watch for longer when they do watch (an average of 34 minutes more a day). They are also less likely to read every day (59 per cent vs 68 per cent), and spend less time reading when they do read (six minutes less a day). In fact, they are less likely than other children to be able to read at all (34 per cent of children ages 4-6 from 'heavy' TV households can read, compared to 56 per cent of other children that age).

"These findings definitely raise a red flag about the impact of TV on children?s reading," said Vicky Rideout of the Kaiser Family Foundation. "Clearly this needs to be a top priority for future research."

Parent?s views on educational value of media. Parents of young children appear to have a largely positive view about TV and computers. They are significantly more likely to say TV 'mostly helps' children?s learning (43 per cent) than 'mostly hurts' it (27 per cent); the overwhelming majority (72 per cnet) say computers 'mostly help' children?s learning. About half of parents consider educational TV shows (58 per cent) and videos (49 per cent) 'very important' to children?s intellectual development. They are also far more likely to say they have seen their children imitate positive behaviors from TV like sharing or helping (78 per cent) than negative ones like hitting or kicking (36 per cent).

However, a majority of parents (59 per cent) say their 4-6 year-old boys imitate aggressive behavior from TV (vs 35 per cent for girls the same age).

Vast majority of parents say they have rules about TV, including 90 per cent with rules about what their kids watch and 69 per cent with rules about how much they can watch. The study indicates the rules may have an effect: children with time-related rules spend an average of almost a half-hour less per day watching TV than other children do (1:00 vs.1:29).

"When it comes to the impact of media on children, quality is as important as quantity," said study co-author Vandewater. "It looks like parents are getting the message that content matters," she added. "Parents should take heart, because this study shows that sticking to your guns regarding your children's media use does indeed make a difference."

The study also revealed that half (50 per cent) of all 4-6 year-olds have played video games, and one in four (25 per cent) play several times a week or more. Differences between boys and girls have already begun to emerge at this young age: 56 per cent of boys have played video games, compared to 36 per cent of girls; and in a typical day, 24 per cent of boys will play, compared to eight per cent of girls.

Despite the plethora of new media, reading continues to be a regular part of young children?s lives. In any given day, nearly eight in ten (79 per cent) children six and under will read or be read to, and those who do spend an average of 49 minutes reading (83 per cent will use screen media, for an average of 2 hours 22 minutes), the study revealed.

The results of the study were presented during a panel discussion at the Barbara Jordan Conference Center, Kaiser Family Foundation building on 28 October. The participants included pediatricians, child development experts and top executives from Scholastic, Sesame Workshop and Nickelodeon.

According to the official release, this report is based on the results of a nationally representative, random digit dial telephone survey of 1,065 parents of children ages six months to six years old, conducted from April 11 to June 9, 2003.

The survey was designed and analysed by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Children?s Digital Media Centers, in consultation with Princeton Survey Research Associates (PSRA). The margin of error is ?3 per cent.

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