As adults, it is not uncommon for most of us to constantly have the television running in the background even if we are not actively watching anything. But a new study from the University of Massachusetts and the University of Wisconsin explains how TV background noise could be harming how you interact with your infant.
Toddlers under 24 months are exposed to around five and a half hours of background TV per day. According to the study, background TV will severely limit the amount of attention we are providing to our young children. In return, it will decrease the amount of time they try to communicate with us.
TV Background Noise Study
Heather Kirkorian, a developmental psychologist with a Ph.D., was interested in seeing how large of a distraction background TV has on parent-child interactions.
“Are they attentive and focused and actively engaged or are they more disengaged, more distracted, less actively engaged in their children’s play? We were also interested in how often they talked to their children, how many words did the children actually hear,” Kirkorian told Child Trends News Service.
Kirkorian watched parents interact with their kids (ages one to three) in a playroom for sixty minutes. During half that time, the TV was on a channel showing adult programs such as a game show or sitcom. The other half of the time, the TV was kept off.
“We found about a 20 percent drop in how many words parents said to their children when the TV was on compared to when it was off,” Kirkorian said. There also was a decrease in overall engagement between the parent and the child.
What’s the Harm?
“Babies don’t multitask,” Victor Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, told WebMD. The TV running in the background could cause distraction and affect a child’s learning, socializing, and playing skills.
When a child’s full focus is not on the task at hand, they get preoccupied and do not do their best. Problems with reading and overall learning have been present with kids that have constant TV background noise in their household.
“In most households, the TV is on for hours and hours at a time. People use it to keep themselves company, but for children under the age of 2, this may interfere with language development,” says Strasburger.
There are activities where no TV background noise is needed. For instance, Strasburger says to leave the TV off and do something educational. “Read to children beginning when they are babies.”
Moderation & Good Judgement
When a television is on in a household, it means the people in the home are communicating less because their attention is elsewhere and there is no need to fill the silence. Parents, in general, are slower to respond to their children when the TV is on and it is not long before the children are the same way. It might first be meant as simply background noise, but before long, it could develop into the child’s main focus.
Does this mean the TV has to be off at all times? Of course not. There are many educational and entertaining shows that can be watched by all. But experts say that limiting the exposure to the TV when a child is young is ideal.