Yet another study suggests television viewing may impair children’s language development

As most parents will admit, nothing can occupy a child quite like the boob tube. What shocks most parents to learn is that more than a half dozen studies now suggest that the TV babysitter has a steep price: the more time babies spend sitting in front of a TV screen, the more their social, cognitive and language development may suffer. A brand new study add to others showing that TV-viewing tends to decrease babies’ likelihood of learning new words, talking, playing, and otherwise interacting with others.

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Researchers at Seattle Children’s Research Institute have recently published a study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine that, according to a report In USA Today “adds to the debate over whether television impairs children’s language development.” 

The team, led by Dimitri Christakis, of the University of Washington, found that “for every hour in front of the TV, parents spoke 770 fewer words to children,” whereas adults typically “speak about 941 words an hour.” 

As a result, when they watch more TV, “children vocalized less.”

Time reported that the researchers “outfitted 329 babies and children, ages two months to four years, with pager-sized recorders on their chests that recorded every audible sound either the baby or any adult made over a 16-hour period.” 

They “wore the monitor for one randomly assigned day a month for up to two years.” The recorder also “captured sound from a television whenever it was turned on within earshot of the baby.” 

Time explained that the investigators found “conversational exchanges between baby and parent dropped 15 percent, as did the overall number of vocalizations made by children.”

On average, the study found, when the TV is switched on, youngsters spend more time in silence and solitude than they do in active social interaction. 

“At minimum, the findings should give parents pause,” Christakis told Time, noting that in 30% of American households, the television is on most of the day, regardless of whether anyone is watching.

That’s especially true when it comes to DVDs and videos marketed to enhance infant development; many claim to work by encouraging parents and babies to engage and interact with each other as they watch. 

But the new study shows the opposite effect: whatever the programming, the ultimate outcome of television noise is to inhibit verbal exchanges. 

In earlier work, Christakis also documented that baby DVDs and videos may even contribute to a drop in language acquisition in infants. You can read more about this in an earlier blog: “‘Baby Einstein’ or ‘Brainy Baby’ may turn your baby into anything but.” 

Add to all this the fact that there’s no evidence to show that screen time is helpful for children and you’ll understand why I join the American Academy of Pediatrics in recommending no TV for babies under age 2.

“We need to avoid parking babies in front of screens,” the researchers told USA Today. 

“Parents need to realize they need to be the primary entertainment for their babies. Parents are movie stars when their kids are babies. It doesn’t last long.”

You can read more about the harmful effects of TV on children, and what you as a parent can do in these blogs: