Background Television and Children

23 Jun Background Television and Children

As an expecting or new parent, you may already have given some thought to what your child will be (or already is) watching on television, and how much time he or she will spend in front of the screen. Research shows that violent television breeds violent and unsympathetic behavior in children. Even seemingly harmless cartoon violence may have negative effects on children’s behavior.

Other problems that can arise from too much TV watching are poor physical health, weight gain, and lagging cognitive and social development.

In response to the research on this controversial subject, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children under the age of 2 should not view any TV at all. For older children, some parents have a “screen time” policy, allotting a predetermined amount of time per day in front of a screen—whether that screen is a two-inch smart phone or a two-meter TV.

But what about background TV exposure? Recent research in Pediatrics reports that kids from 1 to 8 years old are exposed to an average of four hours of background TV per day, on top of their own screen time. Could all this background TV exposure produce negative effects too?

A 2008 study in Child Development found an association between the amount of exposure to background television and poor quality parent-child relationships. In a second study published in the same journal a year later, the data suggested that background TV interrupts cognitive development in young children by distracting their play.  Play, after all, is a primary means by which children’s minds and emotions develop and stretch.

The younger children in this second study (8-24 months old) were exposed to an even greater amount of background television: 5.5 hours per day. The researchers suggested that parents who stay at home with a child may feel somewhat isolated or bored, and the TV is therefore a source of entertainment or companionship for them.

Bottom Line: The next time you feel like having some background noise, try the radio, music, or perhaps an audio book for your child. These alternatives may be less disruptive than television to your relationship with your child and your child’s cognitive, social, and physical development.