Social Science

Flat-Screen Rivalry

TV competes with children for parental attention.

It seems that little Bobby and Suzie don’t need to worry about the new baby taking Mom and Dad’s attention. They should worry about Alex Trebek, instead.

Heather Kirkorian, an assistant professor in the School of Human Ecology, has found that when a television is on, parents — whether watching it or not — become far less interactive with their children than they would be in a room where the TV is off. This is significant, as children spend, on average, four hours a day with television on in the background.

Kirkorian studies childhood development, particularly with respect to parent-child interaction and video-based learning. In one study, she and colleagues looked at how young children — between one and three years old — played in a room with and without television, and how their parents interacted. The children and parents were observed for an hour. For thirty minutes, the television was turned off; for the other half-hour, the television was on, airing programs such as Jeopardy! Though the children paid little attention to the TV, the parents found it hard to ignore, and interaction with children dropped significantly.

“Until they’re two, two-and-a-half years old, kids aren’t very interested in most types of television,” Kirkorian says. “So they didn’t really look at the TV all that often, about 5 percent of the time it was on. But for the parents, there was a robust effect on the quantity and quality of interaction.”

Published in the Spring 2013 issue


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