Watching Television

Publication Date:

Aug 23, 2016

Key facts about watching television

• The percentage of students watching four or more hours of television on an average weekday has declined over the past few decades, falling from 23 percent in 1991 to 18 percent in 2016 for twelfth graders, with similar decreases seen among eighth and tenth graders.
• Among tenth graders in 2016, Non-Hispanic black students were much more likely to watch four or more hours of TV on an average weekday (26 percent) than their Hispanic and non-Hispanic white peers (17 and 12 percent, respectively); similar patterns were seen among eighth and twelfth graders.
• Students with parents who have higher educational attainment are less likely to watch four or more hours of TV on an average weekday than their peers with parents who have lower educational attainment; in 2016, among tenth graders, 19 percent of students with parents who had not graduated high school watched four hours or more of TV, compared with 12 percent of students with a parent who graduated from college.

Trends in watching television

Television watching, as traditionally measured, has declined in recent years, especially among younger students. The percentage of eighth and tenth graders who reported watching four or more hours of television on an average weekday decreased from 1991 to 2016, with the largest drops occurring among eighth graders (from 36 to 19 percent), followed by tenth graders (decreasing from 28 to 15 percent). Excessive television watching among twelfth graders has declined less and more gradually, falling from 23 percent in 1991 to 18 percent in 2016 (Appendix 3).

The percentage of students at each grade level who watched one hour of television or less per day increased from 1991 to 2016, from 20 to 46 percent among eighth graders, from 29 to 52 percent among tenth graders, and from 38 to 52 percent among twelfth graders (Appendix 1).

However, television content is now available on a variety of devices. Using this more inclusive definition of TV watching, use among 8- to 18-year-olds increased from 2004 to 2009 (the latest years for which trend data are available). Children ages 11 to 14 watched the most TV content in 2009, at over five hours daily. [1]

Differences by race/Hispanic origin [2]

At all grade levels, non-Hispanic black students are much more likely than non-Hispanic white students to watch four or more hours of television per weekday. Among twelfth graders in 2016, 27 percent of non-Hispanic black students watched four or more hours of television, compared with 14 percent of non-Hispanic white students. This disparity was even greater among tenth- and eighth-grade students (26 versus 12 percent for tenth graders, and 33 versus 13 percent for eighth graders). Rates for Hispanic students fell between those for non-Hispanic black and white students at each grade level, at 17, 17, and 20 percent for twelfth, tenth, and eighth graders, respectively (Appendix 3).

Non-Hispanic white students at each grade level are more likely than non-Hispanic black students to watch only one hour or less of weekday television. For example, in 2016, 56 percent of non-Hispanic white students in the tenth grade watched one or fewer hours of television, compared with 39 percent of non-Hispanic black students and 46 percent of Hispanic students in the tenth grade (Appendix 1).

Differences by parental education

Students whose parents have a high level of education are less likely to be heavy weekday television watchers than students whose parents have low levels of education. For example, among tenth graders in 2016, 19 percent of students whose parents did not complete high school watched four or more hours of television on weekdays, compared with 10 percent whose parents completed graduate school (Appendix 3).

Differences by age

There is not a clear relationship between watching excessive amounts of television and age. Historically, eighth graders have watched more TV than their older peers; in 2010, 25 percent of eighth graders watched four hours or more of TV on an average weekday, compared with 19 percent of twelfth graders. By 2016, though, this gap had almost disappeared, with 19 percent of eighth graders and 18 percent of twelfth graders reporting watching excessive amounts of TV (Appendix 3). In the past, twelfth graders watched less television than tenth graders, but that difference has reversed in recent years (appendices 1, 2, and 3).

Differences by college plans

Students who report they “definitely won’t” or “probably won’t” graduate from a four-year college are more likely to watch four or more hours of television on an average weekday compared with those who report they “definitely will” or “probably will” graduate from a four-year college. For example, in 2016, 23 percent of twelfth-grade students who did not plan to complete college watched four or more hours of television on an average weekday compared with 15 percent who planned to complete college (Appendix 3).

Similarly, a higher proportion of students who have plans to earn a four-year college degree watched one hour or less of television on an average weekday. For example, in eighth grade, 44 percent of students who plan to complete college watch one hour or less of television on an average weekday compared with 46 percent of those students who do not plan to complete college (Appendix 1).

Other estimates

State and local estimates

2016 state data for children ages 1 to 17 on weekday television and video watching, and video game playing, are available from the Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health at http://www.childhealthdata.org/browse/survey/results?q=4781&r=1.

International estimates

Estimates for fourth and eighth graders in 2003 (the most recent year the question was asked) for countries participating in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the TIMSS-Repeat are available at http://isc.bc.edu/PDF/t03_download/T03_S_Chap4.pdf (Exhibit 4.8).
Estimates for twelfth graders from 1995 are available at http://www.timss.org/timss1995i/MathScienceC.html (Table 4.20).

Background

Definition

Students were asked, “How much television do you estimate you watch on an average weekday?”. Possible responses were: none, half-hour or less, about one hour, about two hours, about three hours, about four hours, and five hours or more. Responses were then grouped into the three categories (1 hour or less, 2 to 3 hours, 4 or more hours).

Citation

Child Trends. (2018). Watching Television. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/watching-television.

Endnotes

[1] Rideout, V. J., Foehr, U. G., & Roberts, D. F. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8- to 18-year-olds. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved from https://kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/8010.pdf.
[2] Estimates for white and black youth exclude Hispanic youth and youth of two or more races. Hispanic youth include persons identifying as Mexican American or Chicano, Cuban American, Puerto Rican, or other Hispanic or Latino and no other racial/ethnic group.