Study: Parents’ Presence During TV Viewing Affects Learning Ability

television-child-watching.jpgChildren today are exposed to more screen time with television and electronic devices than ever before. A new study shows that there’s more benefit to children when parents have an active role and presence in TV viewing.

The College of Media and Communications department out of Texas Tech University conducted a study that revealed there was an increased physiological change in children viewing programs with their parents as opposed to the children watching programs away from their parents in separate places.

Studies have shown that given any activity, children are more interested when their parents are involved, and researchers out of Texas Tech believe this has implications when it comes to things children view. Assistant Professor of Public Relations Eric Rasmussen and Assistant Professor of Journalism and Electronic Media Justin Keene, led the study that examined the physiological behavior of children who watched television with a parent, as well as those who watched alone.

They noted specific and definitive changes in a child’s heart rate and skin conductance (a measurement of how well skin becomes a conductor of electricity when stimulated) when a child watched a program with a parent. This differed from the reaction that happened when the child watched the program with the parent out of the room. The researchers believe the change is an indicator in how much effort the child is putting into learning from the program in that the brain-to-body connection is relative to the importance of the program when the parent is present.

They believe that this study may be the first time anyone has investigated why children seem to learn more from a program or app when their parent is watching with them and involved, as other research that looked at learning patterns of children when their parents were simply in the room. This study implies that the presence of the parent may be the reason children learn more.

The results showed that co-viewing–watching a program with one’s child–will increase the understanding of the program their child has, and this can be with shows of various genre. For instance, regardless of subject matter–say, violence, adult language or what have you, when viewed with parents, there is a deeper level of understanding and influence on the child’s part, and this can go a long way with character building and life lessons.

The study monitored the heart rates and skin conductance levels and found that the levels of both increased when the parent was in the room while the child viewed the study clips (from “Man vs. Wild” and/or a whale documentary). These heightened levels indicate heightened desirability on the part of the child to exert more effort into learning from the show, and the researchers are attributing that to the parents’ involvement level, even in something as simple as the viewing of a television show.

Related: Why My Kids Don’t Watch the News, Ever

These implications are important, as today’s generation of children is one overwhelmed by media. Often it’s said that society is losing this generation because of the bad things portrayed by the media, but Rasmussen and Keene believe that is not the case. They believe that it is the parents lack of involvement when allowing the media exposure that is the culprit, and that focusing on media-literate parents will help make the differences in their children that we wish to make on a societal level.

The research may be a great start to motivating parents to begin this awareness and involvement, with the implementation of rules for what children may watch as well as the involvement level of the parent with the watched shows as well. Rasmussen hopes to conduct further research that will look at parents when they are co-viewing to detect physiological changes in them in addition to their children, and they hope to begin that study this spring or summer.

The most important take-home from this research, according to Rasmussen, is that parents are key when it comes to helping kids process media they encounter, and what they do with it after processing it.

Photo credit: r. nial bradshaw/flickr


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