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Deprived of Nature, Kids Exposed to 'Shocking' Amount of TV

Common Dreams staff

So-called indirect or "background" TV exposure can detract from play, homework, and family time, a new study finds. (Photo: Getty images)

In addition to the troubling 80 minutes of TV that the average child in the United States watches each and every day, a new study released on Monday found that the amount of "secondhand" exposure to television for young children was "staggering" and should be of additional concern to parents and pediatricians both.

The study, Background Television in the Homes of US Children, which appeared in the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics discovered that the average child between 8 month and 8 years old is exposed to 232.2 minutes (nearly four hours) of this secondhand television on a typical day. Averages were even highest, they found, among young toddlers, African American children, and those who had televisions in their bedrooms.

Although other recent research has shown the negative consequences associated with background television, the new study focused on determining "how much" of this exposure children were receiving by asking parents to keep of kids' exposure with a 24-hour time diary. The amount of exposure for the average child, they said, was "startling".

“When we saw the numbers, we were just shocked. The sheer amount of exposure is shocking,” said researcher Jessica Taylor Piotrowski, PhD, an associate professor of communication research at the University of Amsterdam and one of the report's authors.

According to other studies cited by the report's authors, background television creates distractions, both audio and visual, that can detract from the developmental benefits of play time, homework, and family time. Over time, the exposure may have possible consequences for kids' well-being, it the report said.

"From a research perspective, I would be very concerned," lead author of the report Matthew Lapierre, an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, told CNN. "I think (background TV) is something that researchers need to spend more attention to, to understand and unpack."

Tying this report to a recent study by the David Suzuki Foundation in Canada might confirm a growing suspicion among many in the society who think that children are increasingly exposed to electronic media in a manner that is impacting their ability to interact positively with the natural world.

According to that study, entitled Youth Engagement with Nature and the Outdoors, "Seventy per cent of the youth surveyed spend only about an hour or less per day outdoors."

Lamenting those findings, David Suzuki himself wrote that if society cannot reverse the woeful trend of kids spending endless hours in front of television and computer screens with less and less time exploring and enjoying the outdoors, there may be an entire generation of young people missing a love of nature he thinks is key to the desire for future environmental challenges.

"After all," he writes, "people are more likely to look after something they have come to know and cherish."

And, as Suzuki concludes, kids should be encouraged to shut off the television sets and go outside: "Our survival may depend on it."

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