These data suggest that the daily television viewing habits of young Latino children vary depending on the maternal language preference and age of the child. Although similar television habits exist in under 1 year olds, by age 3 years, children with English-speaking Latina mothers watch significantly more daily hours of television compared to children of Spanish-speaking Latina mothers, adjusting for demographic and health factors. Likewise, comparing the children of Latina mothers grouped by maternal language preference to children of non-Latina white mothers, results showed similar viewing habits for all children under the age of 1, but by age 3, children with Spanish-speaking Latina mothers are watching significantly less daily hours of television. These findings highlight the need to further understand sociocultural factors influencing television viewing habits in young Latino children. Such factors should be considered by interventionists when designing interventions targeting television viewing in young Latino children. Additionally, these findings emphasize the need for researchers to appreciate the heterogeneity of the Latino population when describing health behaviors and health outcomes in this population.
To date, there has been very little research that considers the influence of sociocultural factors on television viewing in Latino children. Of the three known studies conducted on television viewing in young Latino children, results have not shown differences in television viewing by maternal nativity13
, primary language13, 15
, or acculturation level.14
However, these studies were limited by their small sample size as well as the homogeneity of their Latino sample population. All three studies sampled mainly low-income, Spanish-speaking immigrant Latina mothers. Strengths of the current study include the large sample size and the sampling of a more heterogeneous Latino population.
Reasons for the differing viewing habits found in this study among Latinos by maternal language preference and child age are potentially numerous, emphasizing the need for further work in this area. One may hypothesize that varying access to either television itself or to valued television content may be a reason for the different viewing habits. However, a recent study found that >99% of Latino families have at least 1 television in the home, such that basic access should not be a reason for the differences we found.39
Increased viewing in English-speaking Latino homes may be due to increased numbers of television sets, hence lending itself to more opportunity for children to watch television. Yet, Borzekowski and Poussaint found no difference in the number of televisions in the home by language in their small sample of mainly immigrant Latina mothers.13
Thus, access to television probably does not explain the differences we found.
Varying access to valued content, however, may be a possible reason for the differences in viewing habits by maternal language preference and age of the child. Access to cable educational television programming or DVD ownership may be increased in English-speaking homes, perhaps due to income. Recently there has been an explosion in the availability of DVDs targeting this age range that claim to be educational.40
Decreased access to such programming in Spanish-speaking homes may lead parents in these homes to turn the television on less frequently due to a perceived lack of child age-appropriate content. This may partially explain why viewing amounts differ in the second and third year of life but not in the first. As children age, there are more and more programs available on DVD that claim age-appropriateness. Also possible is that the lack of easily available public Spanish-language television programming targeting young children may be adding to the differences in viewing habits by language. The main US public Spanish-language television stations, Univision and Telemundo, lack programming oriented towards young children. However, this assumes that Spanish-speaking parents prefer that their young children watch Spanish-language programming. There is some evidence to the contrary. One study found that Spanish-speaking Latina mothers believe that children can improve their language skills by watching English-language shows.13
At this time, it is difficult to conclude what the role of varying access to valued content may play in the development of viewing habits.
A second hypothesis is that differences in viewing habits by language and child age may be a reflection of varying parental beliefs and values about child television viewing. It is possible that Spanish-speaking dominant homes value television viewing differently than English-speaking homes or may value other activities more than television, thus leading to decreased child viewing. This may particularly explain the differences in viewing by age among the subgroups and why television viewing in the homes of Spanish-speaking Latinas does not increase over the age groups as much as it does in the homes of non-Latina white mothers and English-speaking Latina mothers. However, interview language, as is used in this study, is not a specific measure of acculturation, and thus exploration of parental beliefs and values related to television viewing within the Latino population is needed.
The impact of social context must also be considered as a potential factor influencing the development of viewing habits in young children. For example, factors such as parental social supports, social networks, and time demands may influence one's parenting habits. Variation in these factors may be associated with English- versus Spanish-language use. This area, as well as the area of parental beliefs and values, has yet to be well explored in relation to television viewing in Latino children. Experts support the need for the exploration of pathways by which social context and culture influence health behaviors in order to enhance the effectiveness of health interventions.28
Although our data suggest that daily viewing amounts increase at a slower rate in children of Spanish-speaking Latinas compared to children of English-speaking Latinas and non-Latina white mothers, we cannot conclude this due to the cross-sectional study design. A longitudinal study is needed and should include children through the school years to determine if these early differences persist over time. If viewing does truly increase at a slower rate in children of Spanish-speaking Latinas, further explorations of the hypotheses presented above are needed with a specific focus on the interaction of child age and development with these areas. Identification of factors that protect against excessive and increasing viewing in the homes of Spanish-speaking Latinas may prove beneficial to addressing the higher viewing habits in the homes of English-speaking Latinas and non-Latina whites.
This work supports the broader need of health research to understand the heterogeneity of the Latino population and its influence on health behaviors. This study was limited in that only interview language was utilized as an indicator of the heterogeneity within the Latino population. The influence of culture and social context, for example, were not evaluated, but should be investigated in future studies. Additionally, we believe that the language in which the interview was conducted likely reflects the predominant language in the home; however, this is clearly not a perfect measure.41, 42
Hence, future studies should include better indicators of language.
There are additional limitations to our study that warrant mention. The first is that our understanding of television viewing in this sample is limited to hours per day. We are unable to look at the content and context related to this viewing, which are important influences on health outcomes. It would be interesting to know, for example, how content varies in the homes of Spanish- versus English-speaking Latinas. Second, our measure of television viewing by maternal report is most likely not exact. Although a prior study has found such reports to be moderately correlated with actual hours viewed, it is by no means perfect.43
However, we have no reason to believe that the data are systematically biased if they are not true representations. Additionally, random misreporting would bias our findings toward the null.44
Finally, we do not know how mothers are reporting “watching” television in these younger children, whether this means attention given to a program or simply playing in front of the television. Again, we have no reason to believe that the data are systematically biased.
Great attention has recently been given to the need to reduce child television viewing. For those interventions that target young Latino children, findings from this study emphasize the need to appreciate the heterogeneity of Latino populations. In addition, a more in-depth understanding of familial and sociocultural factors influencing television viewing in this population is needed to enhance the efficacy of interventions. Understanding the role of community and neighborhood factors as well as family level factors such as the home context, parental beliefs and parenting practices is essential.