Baby Couch-Potato Boom
Credit: stock.xchng. No usage restrictions.
Credit: stock.xchng. No usage restrictions.

Couch potatoes are getting younger: Forty percent of infants are regular TV viewers by the time they are only 3-months old, before they can even sit up on their own, a new study finds.

“Early television viewing has exploded in recent years and is one of the major public health concerns facing American children,” said lead author Frederick Zimmerman of the University of Washington.

The trend increases in toddlers, his research shows.

At 2 years old, 90 percent of children are parked in front of the tube watching TV shows, DVDs or videos for 10 to 20 hours a week, Zimmerman found in a survey of 1,000 Minnesota and Washington families with a child born in the previous two years.

“While appropriate television viewing at the right age can be helpful for both children and parents, excessive viewing before age 3 has been shown to be associated with problems of attention control, aggressive behavior and poor cognitive development,” said Zimmerman.

Parents gave three common reasons for their children’s regular TV-viewing:

  • 29 percent believed it was educational
  • 23 percent thought it was enjoyable and relaxing for their child
  • 21 percent used the TV as an “electronic babysitter”

Though education was the top reason cited, only about half of the infant’s viewing time was spent watching what the researchers classified as educational for children—programs such as “Sesame Street” and “Arthur.” The remaining time was spent watching non-educational children’s programs, DVDs for babies and adult television shows.

Only a third of parents always watched TV with their children, and most thought their children watched much less than other kids.

“Exposure to TV takes time away from more developmentally appropriate activities, such as a parent or adult care caregiver and an infant engaging in free play with dolls, blocks or cars,” said Zimmerman.

Instead of switching on the television set, he said, parents can read to their child or give them a simple activity to keep them busy, such as playing with plastic containers.