On average, young children nationwide watch about 80 minutes of television per day. But, a new study finds a much larger proportion of their exposure comes indirectly, from television that's on in the background while they are taking part in other activities.

Flickr User Tobyotter
Flickr User Tobyotter

The study, which appears in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics, finds that a child between the ages of 8 months and 8 years takes in nearly four hours of this "secondhand TV" which could have consequences on his or her well-being.

"Too much television can stop children from learning how to entertain themselves," said Rutgers University Sociology Professor Deborah Carr. "And if they get used to having that background noise all the time, it's very distracting. It's distracting when they're working on their homework, it keeps them from sleeping and stops them from engaging in conversation and and doing other things, like playing outside. The children, and the parents for that matter, can never invest 100 percent in what they're supposed to be doing if the television is on in the background all the time."

According to the study, background TV was especially common in certain populations. Children under the age of 2, African-American children, youngsters living in poverty and kids will less-educated parents had the highest levels of exposure, up to five hours a day. Meanwhile, exposure ranged from two and a half to there hours per day among white children and those from more affluent families.

Aside from the obvious distraction television can create for children, there are other consequences of too much "secondhand TV." "If the television is constantly on in the background, children may absorb lessons that are not age appropriate," said Carr. "Also, another issue is if you watch a half-hour of television, ten minutes of that time is going to be advertisements. Those advertisements are usually for unhealthy foods or toys that parents can't afford or things of that nature. So, I think another problem is not just the programming, but this exposure 24/7 to advertisements."

"There is nothing wrong with watching a little bit of television on a daily basis," said Carr. "But, it's also important for parents to monitor and be aware of what their children are watching and make sure it's age appropriate."

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