Childcare, TV and Children’s Time

I am a big fan of center-based childcare (i.e. daycare). Jasper started when he was a few months old, and though the first year was tough with illnesses, by age 15 months they had started a pre-school type curriculum. I love that we don’t have to constantly schedule activities and play dates to keep him entertained. Instead, he’s learning music, dance and sports, and has made great friends that he sees every day. That’s why, even when we hired a full-time nanny when Sam was born (I didn’t want to deal with the illness thing again, and I needed more evening/travel coverage), we kept Jasper in daycare/preschool, pretty close to full-time.

So I was fascinated to see a recent study from the CDC finding that there’s another reason to like center-based childcare. Kids in childcare are much less likely to watch too much TV.

In Oregon, public health types surveyed 2-year-olds’ TV viewing. They found that only 7.8% of 2-year-olds in childcare centers watched more than 2 hours of TV per day, whereas 23.2% of children who were home with a parent (i.e., in the “no childcare” category) watched more than 2 hours per day. The report noted that it was possible parents were unaware of TV watching in childcare centers, but said this was unlikely, as 89% of childcare centers do not use TV with toddlers, and the mean viewing time in centers is only 0.1 hours per day.

I’ve written before on this blog of the difficulty of finding any evidence for the effect of maternal employment on children. While individual studies may find one statistically significant data point (which then get turned into huge headlines), overall, it’s mostly a wash. This study may point toward one of the reasons for the ambiguous results. Perhaps kids gain something from having the one-on-one time with a parent who is out of the workforce, but if the parent is more likely to put the child in front of the TV than a childcare center, then some of that benefit disappears.


6 thoughts on “Childcare, TV and Children’s Time

  1. I agree!

    Our daughter — who goes to state-certified childcare — watches basically no TV during the week. I think this is a big positive. Daycare is also basically all day preschool if you find a good, state-certified program and they start teaching letters, potty training everything really after 2 years old.
    It is very very hard for one adult to entertain a toddler all day by themselves — especially once they give up the nap, which for many alert smart toddlers is from 2 years old.
    Most working parents who’ve gone it alone with their toddler or toddlers on a Saturday or Sunday will tell you.
    The other great thing about daycare is that there is more than one adult in a room, and they work on shifts so if your kid is there from 9 to 5 or to 6 or whatever they have two teachers in the a.m and at least two different teachers from say 2 to 6 so that is all fresh folks, which is more than a lot of us parents can say. How many of us parents get a partner to work with and also get relieved by another human being –not the TV– after a 6 hour shift, not many, and definitely not the stay-at-home parent.
    I also agree that the benefit of daycare before 15 months is not so obvious though if you put a child in daycare before 7 months they do not have any separation anxiety, and I’d say that is a benefit.
    If you want to breastfeed, though there are complexities to having the kid away from you all day before one year and the health benefits of breastfeeding are pretty concrete — thus the home office and nanny solution — o r relatives for the first year or so. There is not a great way to take a year or more off from your job so this first two years can have great opportunity costs for women.
    The cost of more than one child in daycare is a big concern and you are probably paying a fortune to have a nanny and daycare! Many women could not afford this and have trouble “justifying” their salaries against such high cost of support it costs to sanely run a home, shop, clean, cook, do engaged, non-tv childcare and work for pay.
    The cost is a big concern especially for women — whose salaries, however unfairly are measured against the daycare — and especially for women with more than one child — The gov could do more to support childcare and working moms and breastfeeding by incentivizing the home office and breast feeding to one year — and subsidizing more child care, especially for the first 50,000 dollars of a woman’s income… in a married couple — this might also do something for marriage btw
    which is kind of unfairly taxed, especially the second — and usually woman’s income. The tax credit for child care is not a dollar for dollar credit and could be much better, especially for married folks.

  2. I think most of us who’ve been on both sides of the fence agree that GOOD center-based care is really good. The problem is that only a minority is good- most of it is poorly qualified, minimum wage employees who are working daycare between other jobs. This is what I’ve seen in my area and why other moms who’ve worked in daycare won’t leave their kids there.

    The top 10% of centers nationally are excellent. The bottom quarter are very bad. And getting your kids into (and affording) a top 10% center is tough for the average person.

  3. The results of the study don’t surprise me- people staying home with their kids don’t really get to focus on child care all day. In most of these families, the stay at home parent also does all the cleaning, cooking, shopping, etc. It is no surprise that the TV might get turned on to help make that all possible.

    I use the TV to make it possible for me to cook dinner after work and to make our mornings a little bit easier. I’d guess that my kids see between 30-60 minutes of TV per day, and the preschooler sees a little more on the weekends. TV includes educational videos like Signing Time (the toddler’s current favorite) and less educational videos like Cinderella (the preschooler’s current favorite).

    @Twin Mom – I don’t think you have to get into the top 10% to have a good child care experience- I suspect that it would be more like the top 30% or maybe even 50%. When we were looking at day care centers, we checked out about 6, and all would have been fine, and none used TV. I suspect the problem is more in the smaller in home day care providers. Some are excellent and some are OK and some are truly terrible.

    But I do agree with your general point- all 6 centers we looked at were about the same (high) cost, which was not a problem for us but would definitely be a problem for a lot of working parents. We as a country have failed to discuss this problem because for so many people, the standard response is just that the mother shouldn’t go back to work. Our policy is being held hostage by an outdated (and frankly glorified) idea of what family life is supposed to look like.

  4. I think in high earning areas, far more of the centers are good than in lower earning areas so I think a local sample in any area is likely skewed.

    In my area, some centers didn’t use car seats for all children (even though it’s required by law), worker turnover is high, infants were still in their car seats at 11 AM, diaper rash from unchanged diapers is more common than it should be, and even the center I thought was the best had workers who didn’t engage much with the children. Not all these problems were at any one center.

  5. I teach 3-5 year olds at a corporate early learning center and have been teaching for 17 years in various centers. I agree with the limited tv viewing. My center doesn’t do tv or videos and teaches based on learning center activities. Good article. I will share it on my blog.

  6. wow – could not have said it better myself! My Mom likes to rub it in that I work and she stayed home (hence she must have been a better mother and spent more time with me). HA!!!
    When I went to 1/2 day school at age 5, she let me watch 2 hours of cartoons every day in the morning before going to school at noon time. My 3 kids only get to do that on weekends, and usually we’re watching a family movie together.

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