Is Your Child Watching Too Much TV at Day Care?

A national survey finds that 89% of children in home-based child care settings regularly watch television at day care, an average of 1.5 hours a day.


A national survey finds that 89% of children in home-based child care settings regularly watch television at day care, an average of 1.5 hours a day.

Although the amount of television that young children watch at home has been well documented, no study until now has examined how much television preschool children watch in day care.

A study by Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH, Michelle M. Garrison, MPH and Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD, published in the October issue of Communication Reports, examines the amount of television viewing in home-based and in center-based child care programs.

Using data from the nationally representative Profile of Child Care Settings study, the authors found that children in 89% of home-based child care settings and in 35% of center-based child care settings regularly watch television.

In those settings in which children regularly watch television, it is on for an average of about 1 hour per day in center-based care, and for about 1.5 hours per day in home-based settings.

Furthermore, for children in home-based child care settings, approximately 30% of the programming is “non-educational.” To put that amount of television viewed into perspective, it is worth noting that prior estimates for children this age based on parental reports of home viewing, were about 1.5 hours a day (Rideout et al., 2003).

Previous estimates may substantially underestimate the total television exposure for many children.

There are reasons to be concerned about television viewing in this context, the authors report. There is some evidence that heavy early television viewing may adversely affect children’s diet, physical activity, aggression and ability to pay attention.

Moreover, early childhood environments represent important opportunities for socialization and for adult-directed learning.

“Given the opportunities for interactions with peers, teachers and other educational activities — which is what is expected of high-quality child care — it is disappointing to determine that passive viewing of a screen is displacing some of this rich stimulation,” said Dr. Christakis.

“While some viewing has proven educational value, it is generally agreed that even the best programs are not the equal of thoughtful adult interactions.”

About the Authors

Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital in Seattle; associate professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Washington, and director of the Child Health Institute. Author of more than 100 original research articles, a textbook of pediatrics and The ELEPHANT IN THE LIVING ROOM: Make Television Work for Your Kids, he has appeared on CNN, NPR, Today, CBS News, ABC News, and NBC News

Fred Zimmerman, PhD, is associate professor in the University of Washington’s School of Public Health and director, with Dr. Christakis, of the Child Health Institute. Dr. Zimmerman has published widely in the fields of developmental economics and child health and co-authored The ELEPHANT IN THE LIVING ROOM: Make Television Work for Your Kids. His research has been featured on Good Morning America, NBC News, the BBC, and in The New York Times and USA Today.

Michelle Garrison, PhD, is an epidemiologist and research consultant at the Child Health Institute in Seattle. Her research interests focus around child and adolescent mental health.

About Seattle Children’s

Consistently ranked as one of the best children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical referral center for the largest landmass of any children’s hospital in the country (Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). For more than 100 years, Seattle Children’s has been delivering superior patient care while advancing new treatments through pediatric research. Seattle Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The hospital works in partnership with Seattle Children’s Research Institute and Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation. For more information, visit www.seattlechildrens.org or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.