Predicting how early and how much young children use television and computers: the role of sociodemographic, family, and child characteristics



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This study examined how early and how much young children (ages 6 months ñ 6 years) used television and computers. The roles that sociodemographic factors (parent education, income, and ethnicity), the family media ecology (availability of media, parental beliefs about media, regulation of media use, and the pervasiveness of television in the home), and child characteristics (age and gender) played in predicting these aspects of use were tested. Event history analyses revealed that the incidence and prevalence of television viewing was higher than for computer use. Children whose parents were more educated used televisions and computers earlier than those whose parents had less education; those whose parents had negative beliefs about those media were least likely to start using them than were those whose parents did not have negative beliefs. Ethnicity was also an important predictor: Black children were more likely to start watching television during the first 6 years of life than were non-Black children; Hispanic children were much less likely to have used a computer than were non- Hispanic children. Structural equation models testing mediational processes among the predictors showed that income was primarily related to the availability and pervasiveness of television in the home, whereas parent education was associated with regulation. Positive beliefs about television predicted greater availability and pervasiveness of television, and the absence of rules about viewing. Overall, television viewing began earlier among children whose parents had more education, had rules about viewing, did not have television in the bedroom, and lived in a pervasive television environment. Lower parent education, positive parental beliefs about television, and exposure to pervasive television were linked to heavier viewing. Socioeconomic status and access were the primary predictors of how early and how much children used computers, especially among Black and Hispanic children. How early television-viewing and computer use began were not related to how much time children spent with these media. The sociodemographic and family dynamics surrounding television use were more complicated than those for computers, suggesting that television has been firmly embedded into family life and complex processes shape its use in the home.