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AAP Warns Against “Background” Television Exposure in Children

television, children's television habits, reduce screen time

Even if the kids aren’t actively watching, having the television on as “background noise” can still be harmful to their development, warns the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a study conducted by Matthew Lapierre MA of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the average American child is exposed to 4 hours of background television per day in addition to the average amount of active television watching, which the AAP says is about 1.3 hours per day on average. That means that over 5 hours of a child’s entire day is influenced, at least in part, by television.

Younger children (ages 8 months to 24 months), African-American children, and disadvantaged children were among those with the highest reported rate of spending time with the television on in the background while doing other activities.

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Too much TV is during a child’s early life is linked to poor performance in school, especially in the areas of language and reading, adverse effects on mental and emotional development, and difficulty focusing and paying attention. As kids get older, too much screen time can interfere with social development and physically can lead to sedentary behavior and promotion of poor dietary habits, which increases the risk of overweight and obesity.

Background television exposure, Lapierre says, is also linked to lower quality parent-child interactions.

Lapierre suggests, obviously, turning off the television when no one is watching. At minimum, the TV should be off during key times of a child’s day, such as when doing homework, during meals and at bedtime.

Parents can reduce overall television viewing by getting children interested in other activities, such as imaginative playtime, reading and active outdoor play when the weather permits. Experts suggest that parents avoid putting televisions in a child’s bedroom, because both active television watching and background television exposure are increased when TV’s are so easily accessible.

Journal reference:
Lapierre MA, et al "Background television in the homes of US children" Pediatrics 2012; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-2581.
Additional Resource:
TV and Children: Television, Health and Development, University of Washington