Background TV noise impairs parent-child interactions, study finds


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The sounds emanating from a television have become the backdrop for family life in the United States. But that constant drone can affect the quality of parent-child interactions, according to a study published today in the journal Child Development.

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts studied 50 children, ages 1 to 3, each of whom was with a parent in a university child study center. In the first half of a one-hour session, the parent and child were in a room without a TV, and in the other half-hour the parents chose a program to watch -- not a child’s show but something aimed at adults, such as ‘Jeopardy!’


The researchers found that both the quality and quantity of parent-child interactions declined when the television was on. Parents spent about 20% less time talking to their children, were less active, less attentive and less responsive to their children.

About one-third of all young children grow up in households where the television is on all or most of the time, even when no one is watching, according to previous studies. It’s unlikely babies and toddlers understand much of the content of programs for older children or adults. It’s just background noise. Yet another study, published last year in Child Development, found that background TV noise disrupts a child’s solitary play with toys as well. ‘Both findings may in part explain the negative associations found between early exposure to television and subsequent development,’ the authors of the current study wrote.

Parental attention is likely to be even less in actual homes compared to the child-study center, the authors said. And, in an ongoing study, preliminary findings suggest that the quality of parent-child interactions also decreases when a children’s television program is on.

-- Shari Roan