Dr Jackie Marsh surveyed the parents of almost 2,000 young children and found them overwhelmingly positive about the role of TV in their children's lives.
One in 10 children knew how to turn on the TV and 5 per cent how to use a remote control before their first birthday. However they preferred playing with toys to watching TV.
The survey, funded by BBC Worldwide and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, found on average children spent 1 hour and 22 minutes a day watching TV.
Dr Marsh said: "All too often people assume that children's use of media and new technologies is unhealthy ... but they can teach vital life and social skills."
She asked pre-school organisations to try activities based on TV characters. Practioners found children were keen on the use of familiar characters.
One said: "Just having Batman logos on the top of paper was enough... The boys couldn't write enough, whereas when we usually put paper out, they ignore it."
Digital Beginnings: Young Children's Use of Popular Culture, Media and New Technologies. See www.digitalbeginnings.shef.ac.uk