The more Americans live the fast-paced, overworked life, the more their young children are over-entertained. It isn't that parents intend to introduce their children to the world by having them gaping blank-faced into a TV screen. But when there's work to be done or just noise to be muffled, parents can see the benefits of young children glued to the TV, quiet and still.
At least that's how I would defend myself, if challenged to explain why my children watch more TV than they should. In the final analysis, however, this exercise in parental laxity is not only indefensible, it's now out of control.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has just released a new study showing just how much electronic media has become a central focus in the lives of many of our youngest children. It conducted a telephone survey of more than 1,000 parents in four large cities with children between six months to six years old, and what the foundation learned is alarming.
To put it mildly, our dependency on what Kaiser calls "screen media" is strong, and our resistance to over-entertaining our children is weak. In a typical day, 83 percent of children under the age of six use "screen media," averaging about two hours a day. But it's even more surprising that the parents surveyed report that 61 percent of babies one year and younger are put in front of a glowing screen for an average of 80 minutes per day.
It gets worse.
Many parents have created homes where the TV is a nearly constant presence, all around the house. Almost half the children (43 percent) aged 4 to 6 have a TV in their bedroom. Even more shocking, there's an idiot box in 19 percent of the rooms with babies one year or younger.
Why do they do this? It's not surprising that the most common reasons parents give for putting a TV in their child's bedroom is to free up other TVs in the house so the parent or other family members can watch their own favorite shows (55 percent) or to keep the child occupied so the parent can do things around the house (39 percent). But in this environment, it's hard to see how parents really can monitor what exactly their very young children are watching, and they don't.