Parents bring their children to day care facilities expecting that they will be well taken care of physically, learn how to socialize, and have their minds and creativity explored and nurtured. Parents may be surprised to learn that television is often a major part of their children's daycare experience.

Although the amount of television that young children watch at home has been well documented, until now no study has examined how much television preschool children watch in day care. A study by Dimitri A. Christakis, Michelle M. Garrison and Frederick J. Zimmerman published in the October issue of Communication Reports, Vol. 19, No. 2, October 2006, pp.1-10 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 'noneducational.' 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). For many children then, previous estimates may substantially underestimate the total television exposure. Parents should be aware of and concerned about television viewing by their pre-school children in daycare.

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

Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital in Seattle and associate professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Washington, where he directs the Child Health Institute with Dr. Zimmerman. Author of more than 100 original research articles and a textbook of pediatrics, he has appeared on CNN, NPR, Today, CBS News, ABC News, and NBC News. He and his wife, Danielle Zerr (also a pediatrician) are kept delightfully busy with their two young children.

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. His research has been featured on Good Morning America, NBC News, the BBC, and in The New York Times and USA Today. He lives in Seattle with his two children and wife Sarah, a historian.

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