May 3, 2011 -- More than two-thirds of child care centers surveyed near a major metropolitan area have televisions and computers, and most don’t follow recommended limits on their use, a new study shows.
Experts say that’s concerning since excessive screen time has been tied to a host of physical and mental problems in children.
“TV viewing is associated with obesity, but it’s also associated with learning problems and delays, vocabulary growth, attention problems -- there are a lot of things linked to excessive TV exposure,” says study researcher Kristen Copeland, MD, an assistant professor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, in Ohio.
Copeland’s study, which was presented at the 2011 annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Denver, found that 59% of 255 licensed child care centers responding to a telephone survey did not follow suggested limits on screen time.
Limits for Young Viewers
In child care settings, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups recommend that children under age 2 not watch any TV, and that TV be limited to once-weekly, half-hour viewing sessions in older children.
“The thought in these guidelines for child care is that children are probably already being exposed to a substantial amount of media in the home,” Copeland says.
But her study found that about one in five day care centers allowed children under the age of 2 to watch TV.
About one-third of child care facilities reported allowing children older than age 2 to watch TV more than once a week.
About half of centers let kids watch TV for more than 30 minutes at a time.
What’s more, Copeland found that nearly two-thirds of centers allowed kids to be on the computer every day, though 88% said they limited how long kids could be on.
Copeland’s study is one of the first to look at computers in day care, a phenomenon which appears to be becoming more common, she says, as centers try to wow parents with technology.
“There’s really very little that we know about what a 3- or 4- year old learns on a computer, how it affects their brain to work on the computer, and whether they are any better off, or more ready for school if they’ve worked with a computer from age 3 to 5,” Copeland says.
Day Care and Screen Time
Her findings confirm previous research, which has shown that children can get a substantial part of their daily media during day care.
“We know that 75% of children in the United States are cared for outside the home during the day,” says Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development at the Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute.
Christakis published a study in 2009 in the journal Pediatrics, which found that TV viewing during day care essentially doubled the average amount of time many young children were thought to spend in front of a screen each day.
“When you put it together, what you find is that particularly kids in home-based child care watch about another hour-and-a-half,” he says.
Children in day care centers that were based outside the home watched less, an average of about 20 minutes daily.
“Parents should be concerned,” Christakis tells WebMD. “It’s not something that is regulated. It’s not something that’s part of licensing in most states -- that there be some restrictions on the amount of children television watch.”
He says the new findings, on the prevalence of computers in day care, deserve a harder look.
“We know for example that kids under the age of 3 don’t learn as well from any screen as they do from a real live person,” he says.
Until more is known, being aware and inquisitive can help.
“Parents could at least be asking, ‘Are they watching TV and how much are they watching?’” Copeland says.
“If parents start asking, and parents are concerned,” she says, “it’s likely this will change.”