The phrase ‘square eyes’ isn’t used much anymore. But it could definitely be applied to many children and teenagers who spend copious amounts of time in front of some form of electronic media each day, including TV, computer games, videos and mobile phones.

The following facts were compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics but the TV habits of Australian children are frighteningly similar.

The following facts about kids TV habits will make many people’s eyes ‘pop’ never mind go ‘square’.

• On average, preschool children spend 32 hours a week with screen media. [1] Excessive screen time puts young children at risk.
• 40% of 3-month-old infants are regular viewers of screen media [2], and 19% of babies 1 year and under have a TV in their bedroom [3].
• Screen time can be habit-forming: the more time children engage with screens, the harder time they have turning them off as older children. [4]
• Screen time for children under 3 is linked to irregular sleep patterns [5] and delayed language acquisition [6].
• The more time preschool children and babies spend with screens, the less time they spend interacting with their parents.
• Toddler screen time is also associated with problems in later childhood, including lower math and school achievement, reduced physical activity, victimization by classmates [9], and increased BMI [10].
• Direct exposure to TV and overall household viewing are associated with increased early childhood aggression. [11]
• The more time preschoolers spend with screens, the less time they spend engaged in creative play. [7]This can affect their development in constructive problem solving and creativity.
• On average, preschool children see nearly 25,000 television commercials per year. (15)

Research shows the benefits of reduced screen time.
• Reducing screen time can help prevent childhood obesity. [26]
• Children who spend less time watching television in early years tend to do better in school and are better able to engage in schoolwork in later elementary school. [9]
• Heavy television viewing before 6 years of age is associated with later behavioural problems.[27]
• Limiting exposure to television during the first 4 years of life may decrease children’s interest in it in later years. [4]
• Children with 2 or more hours of daily screen time are more likely to have increased psychological difficulties, including hyperactivity, emotional and conduct problems, as well as difficulties with peers. [20]
• Adolescents who watch 3 or more hours of TV daily are at especially high risk for poor homework completion, negative attitudes toward school, poor grades, and long-term academic failure. [21]
• Adolescents with a television in their bedroom spend more time watching TV and eat and fewer family meals. [22]
• In a survey of youth ages 8-18, nearly 1 in 4 said they felt “addicted” to video games. [25]
• Including multitasking, children ages 8 -18 spend average of 4 ½ hours per day watching television, 1 ½ hours using computers, and more than an hour playing video games. [16]

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under 2 and less than 2 hours per day for older children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents create an electronic-media-free environment in children’s bedrooms.

References:
[1] The Nielsen Company (2009). TV viewing among kids at an eight-year high. Retrieved July 19, 2010 from http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/media_entertainment/tv-viewing-among-kids-at-an-eight-year-high/
[2] Zimmerman, F., Christakis, D., Meltzoff, A. (2007). Television and DVD/video viewing in children younger than 2 years. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 161(5), 473-479.
[3] Rideout, V. & Hamel, E. (2006) The Media Family: Electronic media in the lives of infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their parents. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation p. 18
[4] Christakis, D., Zimmerman, F. (2006). Early television viewing is associated with protesting turning off the television at age 6. Medscape General Medicine, 8(2), 63.
[5] Thompson, D. A., Christakis, D. (2005). The association between television viewing and irregular sleep schedules among children less than 3 years of age. Pediatrics, 116(10), 851-85