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Study takes a new look at tots and TV

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HONOLULU -- TV watching is common among babies and toddlers in the USA, a survey suggests, but middle-class parents may be limiting the fare to educational shows and videos.

''We don't know if all these parents are telling the truth, and we don't know the long-term effects on kids of starting this so young,'' says Yale University psychologist Dorothy Singer, who reported on her study at the American Psychological Association meeting last weekend.

But she says there could be positive effects from the high teaching content of videos and programs chosen, along with the frequent parent-child interaction as tots watched.

Singer surveyed 221 well-educated, suburban parents with children younger than 2. The average baby started watching videos at 6 months and television at 10 months; viewing increased with age.

In their first two years, virtually all kids had some ''screen'' time, averaging about an hour of TV a day and 25 minutes of videos. Among the favorites: Baby Einstein, Elmo and Barney videos; Sesame Street, Blue's Clues and Rolie Polie Olie TV programs.

Nearly half of the parents said they always watch TV shows with their kids and often interact with them to magnify the educational benefits.

Singer's survey adds to growing evidence that many parents are ignoring the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation that kids younger than 2 shouldn't watch TV. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found about seven out of 10 under-2's get some screen time, and 43% see TV every day.

This year, a controversial study found that TV viewing by infants and toddlers correlated with less ability to concentrate several years later in early elementary school. But the study was criticized for not considering parents' activity levels.

Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder is partly genetic, and critics of the study said parents might park the most hyperactive infants and toddlers in front of the TV.

Less educated, poorer parents aren't as likely as those surveyed by Singer to buy educational videos or to interact while viewing, she says. ''Parents are busy, they're working and feel they need help from TV. Grandparents aren't nearby to help anymore.''

If tots get used to sitting in front of the set, they're likely to watch more as they get older, says Kansas State University psychologist John Murray. And frequent watching does correlate with obesity, he adds.

''Infants need lots of personal interaction; they need to figure out facial expression and emotions,'' Murray says.

''It's far more beneficial to play patty-cake or walk them through the park or read a creative book than to sit them in front of the TV.''

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.


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