Some preschool kids get double dose of screen time



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Posted on November 6, 2010 at 11:34 AM

Updated Saturday, Nov 6 at 12:45 PM

When toddlers at The Picket Fence, an in-home daycare in Edmonds, watch TV, the shows are hand picked.

"We'll do some of the Baby Einstein, the music sing-alongs, because they like that," said Annette Harb, co-owner of the child care.

Harb said the TV is on a couple of times a day. That includes the time when children are dropped off in the morning.

The second time? "When they're getting up from their naps, kids are waking up, we'll do a short period of time then. And that's the only time it's on here," she said.

But the children are also watching TV at home. So how does it all add up?

"I would say an average of two hours a day?" Harb said.

Dr. Pooja Tandon, from Seattle Children's Research Institute and the University of Washington, wanted to know. Her research team looked at total screen time on weekdays, for 4 to 5-year-old preschoolers across the nation. They added home and daycare screen time together.

"We found that on average they were exposed to over 4 hours a day of screen time. And that's more than we had previously thought, and double the amount that's recommended for this age group," said Dr. Tandon.

Her study was just released in the October issue of The Journal of Pediatrics. The researchers found kids watched the most TV at home, where they averaged 3 1/2 hours each weekday. Commercial child care centers and Headstart programs used TV less. But in-home child care settings averaged an 90 minutes daily.

"If you add that to the average of about 3 1/2 hours a day at home, we're looking at over 5 1/2 hours of screen time, for a child that's maybe awake 11, 12 hours a day."

Annette Harb is a mother herself. She wondered about the impact on children's learning. She wanted to know "Are one of those groups of children more prepared for school or the learning process, than the other?"

Dr. Tandon said quality programs can teach kids everything from ABCs to sharing and respect. But studies have shown screen time also has a downside.

"Studies have found that the more screen time a young child is exposed to, the more they're at risk for a range of problems including language delays, learning issues, obesity, even aggression, possibly sleep problems," she said.

Dr. Tandon advised parents and caregivers to be talking, and to limit the time as well as monitor the quality of what preschoolers are seeing every day. There are practical ways to limit screen time experts say. Keep TVs and computers off at mealtimes, and keep them out of children's bedrooms.