Susan H. Babey, a Center research scientist, is the author of a journal article that reveals teens are glued to their TV or computer screens more than 24 hours a week. In this interview, Babey sheds light on why teens watch TV and use computers so much, how the physical environment impacts this trend, and what parents can do about it.
Q: Why are so many teens spending so much time in front of screens?
Televisions, computer games, and other types of screen media are everywhere, so it is not surprising that kids are spending so much time in front of screens. In addition, families are busy. Many parents use TVs and computer games to help them manage their busy schedules. Parents who work long hours may use these devices to help supervise or occupy their children when they are not around or when they need to get things done around the house. However, our results suggest that parental knowledge of kids’ activities is more important than actual parental presence. This suggests that even busy families can reduce the amount of time kids spend in these sedentary activities by keeping tabs on it and perhaps setting limits. In addition, in many households, TV is pervasive. There are TVs in multiple rooms and at least one of them is on most of the day, including during meals. Household environments that are saturated with screens encourage more use of those screens.