New research has shown that children get more out of watching TV when they do it with their parents, compared to watching alone.
Carried out by Eric Rasmussen, an assistant professor of public relations and Justin Keene, an assistant professor of journalism and electronic media, both in the Texas Tech University College of Media & Communication, the study examined the physiological behavior of children who watched television with a parent, and those who watched alone.
Parents and their children were shown a video, either a clip from the television show "Man vs. Wild" or a whale documentary, with each clip about 11-12 minutes long.
At times parents were asked to watch the clip sitting right beside their child on a couch, and at other times the child watched alone while the parent was in another room.
While watching, the children were connected to a heart rate monitor and a skin conductance monitor, which measured the sweatiness of their palms and therefore how good they are at conducting electricity. Both physiological responses were measured as an indicator of how much effort the children put into learning from the TV program, suggesting that they think the program is more important if the parent is also watching it.
The monitors showed that both heart rate and palm sweatiness in a child increased when the parent was in the room compared to when the parent was out of the room, indicating a heightened effort to learn by the child.
The results now suggest that parents who want their children to learn more and have a better understanding of the programs they are watching need to be present with their child also watching the program, known as "co-viewing."
Commenting on the findings Rasmussen said, "Researchers have shown that kids are more interested in activities in which the parents are involved, whether that's at school or reading or whatever. It makes sense then that kids would be more interested in TV if the parent is more interested in that as well. I think parents being involved in a kid's life means a lot to kids whether they know it or not."
"If parents are watching with them, they should know the kids learn things more if they watch with them, whether it's violence, sex, language, whatever," he added, "This really suggests that parents need to be more aware of their influence because parents have that influence whether they think they do or not. Just being there is making a difference."
The team are now looking into studying any physiological changes in parents as well as in the children to study the effect of co-viewing on parents.