Turn off and tune in to your child

Our children love their favorite programs and it calms them down. But, does television really “fill the gap” as much as we hope it will?

Television can get in the way of a child's development. Photo credit: FreeImages.com/Wynand Delport.

Television can get in the way of a child's development. Photo credit: FreeImages.com/Wynand Delport.

According to Michigan State University Extension, parents look for ways to make our family life less complicated. There is so much to do – our jobs, housework, extended family, our friends and other commitments. Life gets busy and life with children gets busier. We know we want the best for our children and we are working toward it, but we also seek out ways to lighten the load. Some parents are tempted to turn on the television so that we can get to our chores or just a take a breather. After all, there are many educational programs that engage our children and offer stimulation. They love their favorite programs and it calms them. But, does television really “fill the gap” as much as we hope it will?

Recent studies show that television is a mixed blessing. While older children can learn from television, young children need active play and interactions with real people to build developmental skills. One effect of having the TV on is that it drives down conversation. Researchers at the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development in Seattle report that “…when the television is on, there is reduced speech in the home.” These researchers actually counted the number of words adults uttered while the TV was on. The Seattle team indicated that the typical rate of language from adults is about 970 words per hour. “From 500 to 1000 fewer adult words were spoken per hour of audible television,” which means that the adults in the study were basically silent while the TV was on.

While it is true that the children heard the words spoken on the television, listening to TV does not help children develop language skills, reports Dr. Victor Strasburger, a pediatrician and researcher at the University of New Mexico.  “It’s confusing for babies who are trying to get their language together to have indistinguishable voices in the background.” The noise of the television is more like a droning in the background than clearly-spoken language to young children.

To us as adults, the sound of the TV on in the background can be comforting or stimulating. We may have it on frequently because we’re bored or don’t have anyone to talk to. It is a welcome accompaniment to many activities like cleaning, doing the laundry or cooking.

But, it looks like it is getting in the way of our children’s development. And that is a concern for all of us. Children of all ages, but especially young children, need language skills to succeed in school and in life. Talking and listening are basic literacy skills that even very young children need to develop. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time, including television, for children under 2-years-old. Are you ready to “turn off” and “tune in” to your child?

Related Articles