The time parents spend watching TV has been underappreciated as a factor in their kids' screen time, a new study suggests.

When researchers interviewed 1,550 parents of children 17 years or younger in the U.S. about viewing habits, they found each hour that mom or dad watched resulted in 23 more minutes of viewing time for their child, after controlling for other factors such as family rules.

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Watching TV together, known as co-viewing, may be part of the time that family members spend together. (Karim Kadim/Associated Press)

"Interventions to reduce television time among children may benefit from a greater focus on parents," Amy Bleakley of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and her co-authors concluded in Monday's issue of the journal Pediatrics.

In March 2012, respondents were asked about the amount of time parents spent watching TV, DVDs, or movies and shows on their computers, as well as the number of TVs in the home, which rooms the TVs were in, and how many rooms had computers with internet access.

Parents were also asked about their children's viewing time, as well as family rules about the amount of time spent watching TV.

On average, parents spent four hours a day watching television, which did not vary based on their child's age.

Children's television viewing averaged nearly three hours per day, and 46 per cent had a TV in their bedroom.

Co-viewing

To be sure, the researchers said there's more than one potential explanation for the findings.

"First, heavy viewing parents may be modeling TV viewing habits for their children," study's authors noted. Another possibility is that watching TV together, known as co-viewing, may be an important part of family life.

It would be useful for future studies to consider how the use of new technologies like tablets and smartphones may affect viewing habits, the investigators said.

It's also possible that parents underestimated their child's viewing, such as not including viewing time at daycare.

The findings reinforce pediatric recommendations in the U.S. for parents to be "good media role models."