So I really can't use the TV as my babysitter...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009 at Wednesday, June 03, 2009
An article just came out in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine which found an interesting correlation between the amount of television watched and a delay in language development. Here is the (over)simplified breakdown of the study. The study consisted of 329 infants/toddlers, ages 2-48 months. Once a month, using a recording device, the verbal interactions of the parent and child would be analyzed. What the researchers found is that for every hour the child watched television, there was a 7% decrease in the number of verbal interactions (words) between the caregiver and child. The researchers contend that this decrease may delay a child's language development. They cite that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against television watching before 2 years of age, and instead encourages more parent/child interaction.

I realize this is a hot-button issue. There are many DVDs out there claiming to improve language skills in babies. There is even a channel devoted entirely to babies! I would like to interject some caveats to this study. Overall the study is well done and here are some of the caveats or disclaimers they introduce. 1) Was the language captured by their recording device intended for the infant? In other words, was this a caregiver/child interaction, or was the caregiver talking to her sister on the phone? 2) The study does not know which television programs were watched by the infants. Furthermore, was the television show actively being watched by the infant, or was it merely background noise?

The study also points out what I kept asking myself while reading the article: what happens if the parent interacts with the infant about the content of the program while the child watches television. If you are watching The Wiggles or Barney would it delay language acquisition and/or development IF you were talking about what was going on in the show? The big answer...YES! I know, surprising. But the article points out that from the infants perspective, the overlapping sounds of the television and the caregivers voice would basically be sensory overload. The researches contend that it is difficult for an infant to attend to 2 sounds simultaneously (Christakis et al., 2009).

One study (Linebarger and Walker, 2005) found a positive relationship between children under 2 and watching television. The average onset for television watching was 9 months. This study found that certain television shows like Dora the Explorer, Arthur, etc were associated with positive language development. However, shows like Teletubbies and even Sesame Street were associated with negative language development.

However, as noted by Anderson and Pempek (2005) most research suggests that children under 2 gain very little, if anything from watching television.

So I guess here is what I keep wondering: how much interaction is optimal? I can't imagine some television viewing is bad, provided you are interacting with your child enough. Why would some shows be beneficial, and others not? And do these DVDs and show geared for children under the age of 2 structure their shows similar to the shows that research has found to be beneficial? Any other thoughts?


Works Cited:

Dimitri A. Christakis; Jill Gilkerson; Jeffrey A. Richards; Frederick J. Zimmerman; Michelle M. Garrison; Dongxin Xu; Sharmistha Gray; Umit Yapanel. Audible Television and Decreased Adult Words, Infant Vocalizations, and Conversational Turns: A Population-Based Study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009;163(6):554-558.


Linebarger, D. L., &Walker, D. (2005). Infants’ and toddlers’ television viewing and language outcomes. American Behavioral Scientist, 48, 624-645.

Daniel R. Anderson and Tiffany A. Pempek. Television and Very Young Children. American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 48, No. 5, 505-522

3 comments

  1. Rima Says:

    Wow. I can tell you that at Nora's age, she learns A LOT from TV. She learns language skills, interpersonal skills... And I'm not just saying that to make myself feel better. As for Ava... Well, she basically ignores the TV. So it makes sense that under a certain age TV probably doesn't benefit them.

  2. NeuronMommy Says:

    Yeah I tend to agree with you. I think there may be an age issue with regards to when they can benefit from language, but at the same time if a parent is interacting with them a lot to develop those language skills, wouldn't tv provide great visual input?

  3. Jackie Says:

    We limit TV watching to maybe 2 half-hour shows a day, and Naomi didn't start watching any TV until she was about 15 months or so.

    I wonder, about the caregiver-infant verbal interactions. My daughter picked up a lot of language, not just from me, but from slightly-older playmates. I wonder if they controlled for social interactions *outside of* the immediate caregivers?

    Also, a little plug for "Little Einsteins"...now my kid can recognize classical music and sing along with the lyrics that the show inserts with the classical pieces to make them more kid-friendly. I guess this might only be important for musician-nerds, but the fact that she can sing along kind of blows my mind.

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