Parents often make rules to ensure the best for their child's development. More often than not, these rules are based on proven studies as well as tried and true methods; however, parental control over children's media habits seems to be based more on cultural beliefs about television and its benefits, instead of evidence-based recommendations.

Could parental beliefs on television viewing change their children's media exposure and therefore their development?

A 2006 study indicated that among a group of many children with diverse ethnic backgrounds, African American, Asian American, and Hispanic children watched the most television. This clear difference among ethnic groups could indicate disparities in beliefs among parents of different heritages — which would be fine, except for the fact that these same ethnic groups were all at greater-than-normal risk for cognitive decline and poor academic performance as a result.

A new study published today in JAMA Pediatrics, attempted to find out why different ethnic groups differ in their beliefs of the benefits of TV time. From 2009 to 2010, 596 parents of children aged three to five completed surveys about their beliefs regarding childhood media exposure and recorded how much television their children were watching weekly. The results? African American children watched the most television, clocking in at 638 minutes per week, while non-Hispanic white children watched a mere 283 minutes of television each week.

But when the researchers dug deeper, they found that it wasn't the ethnic background of the parents that caused the differences in TV time — it was the socioeconomic status. Children from lower income families had more media use, on average, than children from higher-income families. These findings are the same as national survey results indicating that TV viewing differs across ethnicity and income. Seventy percent of African American participants were low-income, 40 percent Asian Americans were low-income, and 13 percent of non-Hispanic white participants were low-income; it's no surprise that African Americans also tended to let their kids watch the most TV.

Parental beliefs were also taken into account and revealed a new layer to the original finding. When asked about the potential for educational programs to help preschoolers better play with each other, African American and Asian American parents were likely to say, "Educational TV programs can help preschoolers to play better with each other." This can explain their children's increased exposure to television in the study, as many parents of children with the highest television exposure and in the low-income and low-education brackets also answered "no" to the statement "I feel confident that I can keep my child busy with activities that do not include exposure to TV".

When prompted, 90 percent of parents studied made rules to limit television use, but only 54 percent of those parents reported that they were able to uphold that rule over time.

The concern with development is clear among parents of higher education levels. In the survey, those with more education agreed that "educational TV programs can help preschoolers learn to recognize letters and numbers," and answered negatively to questions about preschoolers playing together and keeping children busy. These parents seem to be more concerned with development than parents of lower income and education, which would explain why low-income children have the greatest exposure to media and television.

However, in a world where media is as ubiquitous as air, how can parents hope to enforce rules on television use in order to benefit their child's development? admits television in moderation can be a good thing. Preschoolers can get help learning the alphabet and numbers, children in grade school can learn about wildlife, and parents can keep up with current events on the evening news. It also adds, however, that too much television is likely to make children overweight, aggressive, and more likely to take part in risky behavior that they see on television, like drug use. The website recommends that parent enforce a limit on television hours by treating it as a privilege, keeping television sets outside of children's bedrooms, turning off the television during meals, and having other activities in the same room as the television.

Source: Njoroge WFM, Elenbaas LM, Garrison MM, Myaing M, Christakis DA. Parental Cultural Attitudes and Beliefs Regarding Young Children and Television. JAMA. 2013.