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Kids Watch TV As Parents Do, Not As They Say

Parents who think their children don't pay attention can take heart. They're doing their best to emulate your bad TV-watching habits.

Parents have been told repeatedly that setting rules and banning TVs in children's bedrooms will help limit TV time. But those much-researched and oft-touted methods don't seem to matter at all, according to a survey.

The only thing that really mattered was parental screen time. The more parents watched, the more their children watched.

"If the parents watch TV in their free time, the kids are being socialized to watch TV in their free time," says Amy Bleakley, a senior research scientist at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, who led the study.

That was true whether the parents had set rules limiting TV time or not. It was also true whether or not children had TVs in their rooms. And it was true whether or not the family watched TV together or hunkered down alone in their bedrooms.

Every hour of parental TV-watching led to another 23 minutes of TV watching by offspring.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children's screen time for all media should be limited to two hours a day, so that children have time for playing, sports and, yes, human interaction.

Having TVs in kids' bedrooms probably does contribute to excess TV watching, Bleakley says. "I'm not saying you don't have to worry about that," she tells Shots. "You have to get the TV out of the bedroom. But maybe you'll get better changes if you look at your own behavior."

Rules limiting TV time did have some effect, but only among 6- to 11-year-olds. Maybe they're in that sweet spot where they're old enough to understand rules, but still young enough to pay attention to Mom and Dad.

The 1,550 parents who were polled said they watched TV four hours a day on average. They reported that their children were watching about three hours a day. But in households with teenagers, those kids were also polled, and they said they were averaging four hours a day, about one hour a day more than what Mom and Dad reported. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers took account of families that leave the TV on all day in the background, so you don't have that as an out. Earlier studies have shown that background TV can be an issue for very young children, with infants and toddlers exposed to almost six hours a day. The pediatricians say children under age 2 should watch no TV at all.

The researchers also asked about use of computers, video games and other home media. Stay tuned on whether our children are imitating our annoying smartphone habits.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit


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