A friend sent me the following article regarding television and its effects on child development... only this time it isn't necessarily anything the child is watching, but just the fact that the television is on in the background that is potentially problematic.
I found it interesting to ponder, as we consider - as parents -whether the benefits ever outweigh the costs when it comes to the television programming which many have playing in the backgrounds of their lives.
You know where I tend to lean from my post back in June, but anyway, here is the article:
The Effects of Background TV on Toddler Development
Playing is essential to children's development all through childhood but especially in the first five years of life. Through play, children acquire motor skills, explore the physical characteristics of objects, learn about cause and effect relationships, and problem solve. Focused attention to play is necessary for these benefits to occur. A new study explores whether playing with television on in the background—an increasingly common phenomenon in U.S. households—can affect children's development.
At Children's Hospital in Boston, 50 1-, 2-, and 3-year-olds were observed for an hour in a playroom with a television. Half the children had the TV on for the first 30 minutes, and the other half had it on for the final 30 minutes. The program Jeopardy was selected to be on during playtime because it contains no material that is relevant to young children as well as nothing objectionable. Also, children this age could not comprehend what was going on in this show, making this a pure background factor.
Parents were present in the playroom with their children but were instructed to read or watch television. They were asked not to interact with the child nor encourage play with anything unless the child became cranky or demanded their attention.
Children were videotaped during this hour and investigators later observed and analyzed the playtime behavior. The researchers found that there was less play overall, shorter play episodes, and shorter bouts of focused attention when the television was on. Children were more likely to move from toy to toy rather than focusing on one toy, for example, when the TV was on. (Child Development, vol. 79, no. 4 [Jul/Aug 2008]: 1137-1151)
Comment, by Loraine Stern, M.D.: Children's attention spans increase as they get older. The ability to sustain attention and play uninterruptedly for as long as a child's age permits is essential for children to follow through an idea or an investigation. So this new research couldn't be more timely and relevant, given that approximately 75 percent of U.S. parents of young children report that they leave the TV on at least half the time that children are playing at home.
If TV is a significant disrupter of children's attention, does background television contribute to later attention issues as well as impairing development in this age group? This study does not answer either of those questions. We do know that chaotic and noisy households are associated with those problems, so it stands to reason that the noise and rapidly changing light that distracts young children might have a long-term effect.
Another problem with leaving the TV on is that children can be exposed to material that is inappropriate or even harmful—violent images, sexual content, etc. In my practice I ask parents about television use and persuade them to turn it off if nobody is watching. Soft music from the radio or a CD player is hugely preferable if you need some accompaniment to your daily activities.