Is TV Turning Tots into Crib Potatoes?

These days it's hard to shock anyone with alarming statistics about kids and TV. But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics this week manages to do just that. Researchers found that a fifth of U.S. children from 6 months through 2 years old and more than a third of kids 3 to 6 years old have televisions in their bedrooms. Alas.

"It's basically unsupervised viewing," says Dr. Don Shifrin, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) media committee. So much for snuggling while mom reads "Good Night Moon." "They're not doing other things that should be going on in the bedroom—reading books, socializing with family, settling down for bedtime, pulling out the stuffed animals," says Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard University. Kids with televisions in their rooms also log more time in front of the tube—and pack on the pounds, says Rich. "The more TV you watch, the heavier you are." Parents' No. 1 reason for putting a TV in a child's room: to free up other televisions so family members can view their own shows. They avoid "conflicts over who's going to watch what," says the Kaiser Family Foundation's Victoria Rideout, a study coauthor. Parents also erroneously believe the TV will help their kids fall asleep. "It's stimuli!" says the study's lead author, Elizabeth Vandewater, associate director of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin and a mom who watches TV in her living room with her 7- and 11-year-old kids. The new study also found that nearly 70 percent of kids under 2 watch TV despite the AAP's recommendation that they avoid any screen time. Jean Lotus, a mother of five who founded the anti-TV group the White Dot, says parents turn on the tube in their babies' rooms because "they think it will make their kids smarter because of all the Baby Einstein stuff. … The added benefit is [the] kid goes in their bedroom for five hours and doesn't bug you." A previous KFF study found that a quarter of U.S. kids live in homes with five or more TVs. The experts' advice: don't put any of them in Junior's room.