Can 'background TV' impact your young child's development?

We know that watching too much TV isn't good for a young child's development. But what if the TV is just on in the background, and no one is watching it?

That was the question posed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts and University of Wisconsin. And they found that "background TV" might negatively impact how you interact with your child.

When it comes to playtime with her 3-year-old daughter Daphne, mom Maggie Koszewski finds it best to cut out all the distractions.

"When we are at home, we typically don't have the TV on," Maggie said.

Developmental psychologist Heather Kirkorian, PhD, wanted to see if the distraction of having a TV on, even if it's just in the background, impacts parent-child interactions during playtime.

Kirkorian wondered, "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."

For the study, Kirkorian observed parents with kids aged 1 to 3 years, interact in a playroom for an hour. Half the time, the TV was on showing an adult-directed program like a sitcom or game show.

The other half of the time, the TV was turned off.

"We found about a 20% drop in how many words parents said to their children when the TV was on compared to when it was off," said Kirkorian.

Parents were also slower to respond to their child when the TV was on, and there was drop in a parent's active engagement, which led to less toy play for the youngest children.

Kirkorian suggests that these could lead to negative outcomes for kids later on.

"The more children hear a variety of words in the home, the higher the vocabulary is later in life," she said.

A Georgetown University study found that, on average, toddlers under 24 months old are exposed to five and a half hours of background TV a day. As the child gets older, the amount of background TV they are exposed to declines.
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