Electronic media is a central focus of many very young children’s lives, used by parents to help manage busy schedules, keep the peace, and facilitate family routines such as eating, relaxing, and falling asleep, according to a new national study released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“Parents have a tough job, and they rely on TV in particular to help make their lives more manageable,” said Vicky Rideout, vice president and director of Kaiser’s Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health. “Parents use media to help them keep their kids occupied, calm them down, avoid family squabbles, and teach their kids the things parents are afraid they don’t have time to teach themselves.”

According to the study "The Media Family: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Their Parents" in a typical day more than eight in ten (83%) children under the age of six use screen media, with those children averaging about two hours a day (1:57). Media use increases with age, from 61% of babies one year or younger who watch screen media in a typical day (for an average of 1:20) to 90% of 4 to 6 year-olds (for an average of 2:03).

In many homes, parents have created an environment where the TV is a nearly constant presence, from the living room to the dining room and the bedroom. One in three (33%) children this age has a TV in their bedroom (19% of children ages 1 year or younger, 29% of children ages 2-3 years, and 43% of those ages 4-6 years).

The most common reasons parents give for putting a TV in their child’s bedroom is to free up other TVs in the house so the parent or other family members can watch their own shows (55%), to keep the child occupied so the parent can do things around the house (39%), to help the child fall asleep (30%), and as a reward for good behavior (26%).

As one mother who participated in a focus group in Irvine, CA said, “Media makes life easier. We’re all happier. He isn’t throwing tantrums. I can get some work done.”

At a time when there is great debate on the merits of educational media for children, many parents are enthusiastic about its use. For example, two-thirds of parents (66%) say their child imitates positive behavior from TV, such as sharing or helping. A large majority of parents (69%) say computers mostly help children’s learning, and a plurality (38%) say the same about watching TV (vs. 31% who say TV “mostly hurts” and 22% who say it doesn’t have much affect either way.)