My recent post discussed the objections which the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has regarding TV watching experience for infants and children. I shared my personal perspective which sided with the AAP. Feedback from the post has inspired me to continue researching the topic with a focus on non-direct television exposure (TV background noise). This article will summarize a few research studies as well some additional thoughts and perspectives on the topic.
Before we begin, I admit that I used to over-watch the television. Between the NFL, NBA, college sports, news, weather, and prime-time television, I was often close to the national average of television watching time. Currently, my wife and I do enjoy a few entertainment shows; however, we watch them only when our daughter is asleep. They do not offer any educational value, and I am not willing to admit the names of the shows. Feel free to guess our current preferences in the comments section!
Research on Television Background Noise
One of the most inclusive research summaries of background television noise found that children aged 0-2 years old are exposed to an average of 5.5 hours of background television per day. Television noise of 5.5 hours per day is 38.5 hours per week which is 83.4 days (24 hour periods of time) per year. This is equal to approximately 3 months per year. Nearly ¼ of the year is clouded with television shows and commercials. This extensive quantity of time is a crucial data point which is often overlooked when considering the specific effects of background television noise exposure.
A more recent publication has clarified the impact television background noise has on child development. Children exposed to significant tv background noise develop shorter attention spans and decreased playtime focus abilities. Even if they do not care to watch the television, they are cognitively distracted by the noise. Since they are also experiencing less person to person communication as well as less content rich communication, they consistently test at lower levels of language development, receptive vocabulary, and cognitive development.
In summary, television background noise is limiting the thought processing and developmental potentials of the child, and it is distracting the adult from high quality parent-child interactions.
Does the Specific Distraction Content Matter?
Very little research has been completed on the content specifics. What is the difference between watching Jeopardy vs Judge Judy? Higher fractions of Jeopardy content are more content rich and educational. Commercials are also slightly more content rich, and the emotional tone is much less negative. That being said, background noise from either source is a cloud of distraction. The closer and louder it is for the child, the more distracting it will be. The repercussions are also dependent on the parent’s level of investment. If you are only distracted from the child for 5 minutes of a Judge Judy show vs 15 minutes of a Jeopardy show, then Judge Judy might be the better option.
Although the television is high on the list of distractions within today’s norms, the broader distraction issue is the primary concern. Other potential distractions include the radio, cell phone, computer, books, magazines, and newspaper to name a few. If you are focused on something else you cannot be fully present with your child. For this reason, very little research has delved into the specifics in terms of distraction rankings for the impact on child development. Silent options might be slightly better since they are not directly distracting the child. However, they are often more fully displacing the interest of the parent. Noise only options like the radio may be better since they might be less distracting for the parent, but the child is exposed to the constant sound. If the radio content is a flurry of negative news and commercials, it is probably not the best option for yourself or your child. If the content is positive music with plenty of co-singing and dancing involved, then we have probably ventured into the realm of positivity for child development.
Maximize Learning Potentials
I am the first to admit that interacting with an 8-month child is not the most entertaining experience. However, I assure you that children are soaking up your words and actions like a sponge. If your language is distracted and inconsistent, regardless of the cause, valuable knowledge is not present to be absorbed. At this point you might be wondering if you should hire out jobs like washing dishes, doing laundry, and cleaning the house in order to maximize positive parent-child interaction time 24/7.
I am not making a case for obsessive catering to all of your child’s immediate desires, as this will probably do more harm than good. However, your child is very perceptive to your presence. Rather than distracting yourself and your child with TV background noise, consider including some fascinating self-dialogue about the dish washing experience, laundry organization process, and the house cleaning chores. With these habits you are maximizing the child’s focusing and language acquisition potentials.
Consider limiting your newspaper or magazine scan to just a few minutes, or better yet, read the details while your child is asleep. Then, your child would love to hear your perceptions of the content, especially if it closely relates to the order and efficiency which all the toys are removed from the toy bin. When a text is received make sure to verbalize who contacted you, what they have to say, and the thoughts behind your response. Two or three years later they will have much more valuable input when you are working together to formulate an ideal text response for family updates.
Outdoor time is a valuable experience for child development as well as parental sanity. Consider taking a walk highlighting the sights, sounds, textures, and smells of the great outdoors. Another blogger has already beat me to writing a great research summary clarifying how the outdoor experience allows your child’s the imagination, patience, and peace to truly flourish.
In conclusion, if you feel that your time could be invested more productively for yourself and your child, then I highly recommend you clarify and pursue your goals. For me it seems fair and logical to provide a pathway for my daughter to reach her highest potentials. One big step in the right direction is simply pressing the off button on the TV remote and remaining present with my daughter.