When TV Becomes Kids' Nanny

Report: Parents Often Use TV to Help Manage Their Kids

From the WebMD Archives

May 24, 2006 -- Move over, Mary Poppins. There's a new nanny in many homes that comes with a remote control, not a magical umbrella.

A new report states that parents of babies, toddlers, and young kids "often turn to media as an important tool to help them manage their household and keep their kids entertained."

"Many parents find media a tremendous benefit in parentingparenting and can't imagine how they'd get through the day without it (especially TV, videos, and DVDs)," states the report, titled "The Media Family: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers, and their Parents."

The report comes from the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health care issues. Data stems from a survey of more than 1,000 parents of kids aged 6 months to 6 years.

Parents reported the TV, video, DVD, computer, and video-game habits of their kids in that age range. The results paint a picture of America's littlest TV viewers.

How Much Screen Time?

The survey shows that in a typical day:

  • 75% of kids watch TV
  • 32% watch videos or DVDs
  • 16% use a computer
  • 11% play video games

All in all, 83% of parents said their babies or young kids used any "screen media' in a typical day. The same percentage said their kids read or were read to in a normal day.

Kids watch an average of 1 hour and 19 minutes of TV and a similar amount of time for videos/DVDs each day.

One in three kids has a TV in their bedroom, according to the survey. The No. 1 reason why parents say they let kids have a TV in their bedroom is to free up other TVs for themselves or other family members.

Older kids are more likely to watch more TV and to have a TV in their bedroom, the survey shows.

However, parents reported that their kids spend more time reading and listening to music than watching TV in a typical day.

TV Always On

Nearly a third of parents reported that TV is on, even if no one is watching it, "always" (13%) or "most of the time" (19%).


The report notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends "no screen time for babies under 2" and "no more than one to two hours per day of screen media for children 2 and older."

The Kaiser Family Foundation also held focus group sessions in four U.S. cities to talk about TV with parents of babies and young kids. In those focus groups, many parents said TV has positive benefits for their kids.

For instance, 38% said they thought watching TV "mostly helps" children's learning while 31% said it "mostly hurts" kids' learning. Twenty-two percent indicated that TV didn't make much difference in kids' learning.

What's on the Tube?

More than eight in 10 parents reported having rules about what their kids could and couldn't watch on TV. Most also had rules about kids' use of computers and video games.

Viewing habits varied widely. For instance, one mother in a focus group said she let her child, who was 1-3 years old, watch the crime show CSI with her. Another reported watching 20 minutes a day of educational TV with her child.

Two-thirds of parents said they had noticed their child imitating a positive behavior from TV, such as sharing. More than one in five (23%) said they had noticed their child imitate an aggressive behavior from TV.

More than half of the parents (53%) said TV calms their child down; 17% said TV excites their child.

Parents sometimes shifted their TV strategies based on their kids' behavior. For instance, one mother reported not letting her daughter watch ER any more after the little girl tried to give her younger brother CPR.

1 Mom's View

The report includes these quotes from a mother of a child aged 1-3 years in Irvine, Calif.

"I don't think media has anything to do with how I am as a parent," the mother says. "I would never sit her in front of a TV so I could go do something. I learned a long time ago that the dishes can wait until tomorrow. It can all wait. I've seen my 15-year-old grow up in the blink of an eye … I take advantage of all the time I can get."

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on May 24, 2006


SOURCES: Kaiser Family Foundation, "The Media Family: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, and their Parents." News release, Kaiser Family Foundation.
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