CHILDREN from disadvantaged families watch more television than children from higher socio-economic backgrounds, research has found.
The joint study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the University of New England also found that a third of Australian children aged over two are spending more than the recommended two hours a day watching TV.
AIFS researcher Dr Ben Edwards said while children's television watching was low in the first year, by two to three years of age, television occupied a significant portion of a child's time, particularly for those from lower socio-economic families.
''At critical ages for child development, when children are under three years old, the more disadvantaged the child's background, the more likely it was that they would watch television for more than two hours,'' he said.
By the time children were aged between four and five, the proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds watching more than three hours of television a day was more than double that of children from advantaged backgrounds.
The research also found that children from higher socio-economic backgrounds spent more time reading.
Among the most disadvantaged families, 41-47 per cent of children were not read to at all, compared with only 15-22 per cent of children in the most advantaged families.
Dr Edwards said the findings could help explain ''the means through which social advantage is transmitted across generations'' because, he argues, longer TV viewing can encroach on other learning and developmental opportunities such as reading and imaginative play.
Four years ago, Carmel and Jesper Nielsen, from Prahran, began restricting their children's TV viewing to weekends only. Their children now watch about six hours of TV a week. Computer games are limited to two hours a week.
''Basically, we felt it was displacing that creative and imaginative play as well as physical activity and, just as importantly, when they were watching TV there was very little family interaction,'' Ms Nielsen said.
She said while it was initially difficult to reduce their children's TV viewing, they are now just as happy to play with their toys or play sport outside.
''Even on the weekends, it's not like they rush to turn on the TV, because there are so many other things they enjoy doing.''