Parent cultural attitudes, beliefs associated with child’s media viewing habits

Child watching television

Differences in parental beliefs and attitudes regarding the effects of media on early childhood development may help explain the increasing racial/ethnic disparities in child media viewing/habits, according to a new study by Wanjiku Njoroge, MD, of Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

The findings support national research that preschool-aged children spend considerable time with media, a situation that brings both risks and benefits for cognitive and behavioral outcomes depending on what is watched and how it is watched. A 2006 Kaiser Family Foundation media study, for example, highlighted that ethnically/racially diverse children—specifically African American, Hispanic and Asian children—watch more television than non-Hispanic white children.

New study included almost 600 parents

A total of 596 parents of children ages three to five years completed demographic questionnaires, reported on attitudes regarding media’s risks and benefits to their children, and completed one-week media diaries in which they recorded all of the programs their children watched.

According to study results, children watched an average of 462 minutes of TV per week, with African American children watching more TV and DVDs per week than did children of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. The relationship between the child’s race/ethnicity and average weekly media time was no longer statistically significant, however, after controlling for socioeconomic status (parental educational attainment and reported annual family income).

Small study sample size may have affected results

“Once we took SES into account, some of the findings disappeared,” said Njoroge. “That could be due to the small numbers.” The makeup of the study sample was 409 non-Hispanic white, 41 African American, 49 Asian American/Pacific Islander/Hawaiian and 97 multiracial children. Despite this limitation, the research teams’ findings echo national survey results indicating that TV viewing differs across race/ethnicity and SES.

Significant differences were found between parents of ethnically/racially diverse children and parents of non-Hispanic white children regarding the perceived positive effects of TV viewing, even when parental education and family income were taken into account.

Future research needs larger samples of children from diverse backgrounds

“These findings point to an important relationship between parental attitudes and beliefs about child media use and time that could be useful for intervention,” said Njoroge. “Because of the strong relationship between SES and media exposure in our sample, future research with larger samples of children from diverse backgrounds is warranted to better understand the complexities of race/ethnicity, family SES, and parental beliefs and attitudes on child media exposure.”

Njoroge and colleagues have several follow-up studies in the works. “We know that media is an enduring presence in the lives of young children and families,” she said. “Therefore, we need to understand differences across parenting cultural styles, so that recommendations can be tailored to families regarding their young child’s media use.”

Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH, a co-author on Njoroge’s study, released findings earlier this year about the importance of a “media diet” for children, with an emphasis on less violent programming and more educational and prosocial programs. Njoroge’s research is through the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. She is also an assistant professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington.

Study co-authors, funding support

This study was supported by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (1 R01 HD 056506-01A2) and grant R01 HD 56506 from NICHD Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (PA-08-190, Media Impact on Preschool Behavior). Study co-authors include Laura Elenbaas, BA (University of Maryland); Michelle Garrison, PhD (Seattle Children’s Research Institute); and Mon Myaing, PhD (Seattle Children’s Research Institute).