You'll be reassured to learn that America's toddlers are mastering the skills they'll need later in life. According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 38 percent of kids age 6-23 months can turn the TV on by themselves. Forty percent can change channels with the remote, while a precocious 7 percent can put in a DVD or video by themselves. Those are just a few of the tidbits in the report, which entailed a survey of parents with kids age 6 months to 6 years.
Nearly all kids in the 6-months to 6-years age bracket (99 percent) live in a home that has at least one TV set. Eighty percent inhabit homes with cable or satellite TV; 53 percent are in homes where the biggest TV set is 30 inches or larger, including 25 percent where the set is 40 inches or larger. Ninety-three percent are in a home with a VCR or DVD player, including 33 percent with a portable DVD player. For those unfortunate moments when one must leave the house, 18 percent have a DVD player or TV in their car.
Thirty-three percent of the kids have a TV in their own room, while 23 percent have a VCR or DVD player there. Even among children under a year old, 19 percent have a TV in their room. Is all of this so the kids can watch their favorite shows? Not exactly. The most common reason for putting a TV in a child's bedroom (cited by 55 percent of parents who've done this) "was so the parent and other family members can watch their own shows" without being interrupted and otherwise harassed by the small fry.
And this indicates the conflicted feelings that parents of small kids have about TV. Even while decrying the programming they'd rather their kids didn't see, parents rely on TV to babysit, pacify and (maybe) educate those kids. Thirty-nine percent of parents who put a TV in a kid's room did so because "it keeps the child occupied so the parent can do things around the house"; 30 percent did so because "it helps the child fall asleep," and 19 percent did it to get kids to go to bed in their own room. More broadly, 53 percent of parents said TV (in a kid's room or elsewhere) "tends to calm their child down," vs. just 17 percent saying it "gets their child excited."
Sometimes, TV-viewing is an activity children engage in along with their parents. A majority of parents whose kids watch TV on a typical day were in the room with them the whole time (40 percent) or most of the time (28 percent). The TV can be more of a constant than the parent, though: 13 percent of the children grow up in households where the TV is on "all the time," and another 19 percent in homes where it's on "most of the time." Heaven help them.