Relationship between parental estimate and an objective measure of child television watching
© Robinson et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2006
Received: 29 March 2006
Accepted: 27 November 2006
Published: 27 November 2006
Many young children have televisions in their bedrooms, which may influence the relationship between parental estimate and objective measures of child television usage/week. Parental estimates of child television time of eighty 4–7 year old children (6.0 ± 1.2 years) at the 75th BMI percentile or greater (90.8 ± 6.8 BMI percentile) were compared to an objective measure of television time obtained from TV Allowance™ devices attached to every television in the home over a three week period. Results showed that parents overestimate their child's television time compared to an objective measure when no television is present in the bedroom by 4 hours/week (25.4 ± 11.5 vs. 21.4 ± 9.1) in comparison to underestimating television time by over 3 hours/week (26.5 ± 17.2 vs. 29.8 ± 14.4) when the child has a television in their bedroom (p = 0.02). Children with a television in their bedroom spend more objectively measured hours in television time than children without a television in their bedroom (29.8 ± 14.2 versus 21.4 ± 9.1, p = 0.003). Research on child television watching should take into account television watching in bedrooms, since it may not be adequately assessed by parental estimates.
Young children today are exposed to an abundance of sedentary activities that include television and movie watching, using the computer, and playing video games. National data and recent research both suggest that 3–7 year-old children watch an average of two [1–7] to three hours of television per day [2–9], with media related television activities such as video games and movies adding a half hour per day [6, 10], and computer games adding another half hour per day [6, 11].
Television viewing is typically assessed by parental estimates, since young children cannot accurately self-report their own television viewing behaviors, but there is limited validity data of parental estimates of child television viewing time. Parents overestimated child television viewing by 1.1 hours/week to 5.3 hours/week in comparison to parental diaries , and parental diaries overestimated television viewing when compared with video observation by 3.2 hours/week . Parents also underestimate child viewing hours versus Nielsen ratings (13.4 hours/week versus 27.8 hours/week, respectively) . Nielsen Media Research measures estimates of audience viewing using an electronic monitoring system, called people meters, placed on each TV set in randomly selected homes. The people meters record what channel is being watched, and who is watching to provide national household and person estimates of TV viewing . Parental estimates are influenced by how much opportunity parents have to observe their children engaging in these behaviors. Thirty-two to forty percent of children seven years old and younger have a television in their bedroom [6, 10, 13], which may limit the accuracy of parental observations on television watching. A television set in the child's bedroom is related to increased prevalence of obesity , higher overall viewing times [11, 13–16], and greater sleep disturbances . This study compared parental estimates of television and computer use with an objective measure for all devices in the home, and assessed whether having a television in the bedroom influenced these estimates. Families were recruited for a study that evaluated the effects of modifying the home television watching environment on BMI change. Eligibility criteria included 1) having a 4–7 year old child at the 75th BMI percentile or above, 2) having at least one working television in the home, and 3) a minimum of 14 hours per week of television and computer usage by the 4–7 year old child initially assessed by parental estimate during the phone screen, and confirmed by baseline TV Allowance™ measures. Parental estimates and objective measures of television and computer hours per week are from the baseline data of 80 families. The participating parent completed a questionnaire which assessed the number of televisions, television video game units, VCR videos/DVDs, and computers in the home.
Descriptive characteristics of participating 4–7 year old children and households.
Total (N = 80)
TV in Bedroom (N = 19)
No TV in Bedroom (N = 61)
Mean ± SD
Mean ± SD
Mean ± SD
6.0 ± 1.2
6.4 ± 1.0
5.9 ± 1.3
19.2 ± 3.0
20.1 ± 4.4
19.0 ± 2.4
90.8 ± 6.8
91.1 ± 6.7
90.7 ± 6.9
zBMI (standardized measure of BMI)
1.6 ± 0.6
1.6 ± 0.6
1.6 ± 0.6
Televisions in the home
3.0 ± 1.3
4.1 ± 1.6
2.6 ± 1.0†
Computers in the home
1.0 ± 0.6
1.0 ± 0.6
1.1 ± 0.6
People residing in the home
4.3 ± 0.9
4.4 ± 1.0
4.2 ± 0.9
Parental estimates of television (hours/week)
25.6 ± 13.0
26.5 ± 17.2
25.4 ± 11.5
Actual television (hours/week)
23.4 ± 11.1
29.8 ± 14.4
21.4 ± 9.1‡
More than one race
Children with a television in their bedroom spent an additional 8 and a half more hours per week of television than those without a television in their bedroom (29.8 ± 14.2 vs. 21.4 ± 9.1), determined by the objective measure, F(1,78) = 9.15, p = 0.003. There was no significant difference between objectively measured television hours per week for minority versus non-minority children (p > 0.05). Families that had a television in the child's bedroom had significantly more televisions in their house (4.1 ± 1.6 vs. 2.6 ± 1.0), F(1,78) = 24.60, p < 0.001.
There were no differences between parent estimated (25.6 ± 13.0) and objectively measured (23.4 ± 11.1) television time per week (F(1,78) = 0.04, p > 0.05) when television in the bedroom was not considered. The number of televisions in the house was positively correlated with parental estimates (r = 0.23, p < 0.05), but not with actual viewing time (r = 0.09, p > 0.05). A significant correlation was observed between parental estimates and television hours recorded by the TV Allowance™ (r = 0.49, p < 0.001). However, intraclass correlation coefficients showed poor agreement between parental estimates and the objective measure of television time for all subjects, those with a television in the bedroom, and those without a television in the bedroom (ICC = 0.48, 0.47, 0.47, respectively; an ICC of 0.8 or greater is considered a strong correlation), strengthening the argument that parents are inaccurate reporters of their child's television use.
The differential results may also be related to collection of parental estimates prior to collection of objective measures. The time frame used by parents to estimate "usual" television watching may have been different than the time frame of the objectively measured television and computer use. These results were collected at baseline, and it is unknown whether the under or overestimation observed at baseline is consistent over time. If objective measures of television and computer use are not available, research is needed to evaluate ways to improve the sensitivity of parents to the amount of television and computer time their young children engage in.
This research was supported by National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases R01 grant DK63442.
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