The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned against "background television," especially in homes with children under age 2, because it can harm children's cognitive functioning and social play.
In the new study, "Background Television in the Homes of U.S. Children," in the November 2012 issue of Pediatrics (published online Oct. 1), researchers conducted a survey to track children's exposure to background television on a typical day. They found the average child aged 8 months to 8 years is exposed to nearly 4 hours of background television over a 24-hour period. Both younger children and African American children are exposed to more background television, at an average of 5.5 hours per day, and children from the poorest families were exposed to nearly 6 hours per day. Children in families who left the television on when no one was watching, and children who had TV sets in their bedrooms, were exposed to more background TV.
The study establishes the pervasiveness of background TV in U.S. homes with children. Study authors suggest attempts to reduce background TV can start with simple steps like advice to turn off the TV when no one is watching, or to turn off the TV at key points during the child's day, like bedtime and mealtime.