Study Finds Television Noise Delays Development

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Study connects delayed brain development to television. Image: sxc.hu

In the past, studies have shown that infants exposed to television tend to have delayed vocalization and attentional problems. While various theories were offered up to explain this phenomenon, there had been no in-depth studies to back them up. Until now. A new study led by Dimitri A. Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Research Institute, finds that the answer lies not only in the child's experience with the television, but the impact of television on the adults around him as well.

The study looked at over 300 children aged two months to four years old. The children were fitted with business-card sized sound recorders that captured everything they said and heard during continuous 12 to 16 hour periods. These recordings took place on random days for up to two years and were interrupted only for naps, baths, nighttime sleep and car rides. Special software was used to process the recordings and analyze the sounds children were exposed to as well as the sounds they made.

The researchers found that for each hour of audible television, there was a significant drop in the amount and duration of child vocalizations as well as a drop in conversational interactions with an adult. By "significant" they mean that, on average, every hour of television exposure was associated with a decrease of 770 words the child heard from an adult. And it's not that the children were just tuning out -- the adults were speaking 500 to 1,000 fewer words per hour of audible television.
"Adults typically utter approximately 941 words per hour. Our study found that adult words are almost completely eliminated when television is audible to the child," says Dr. Christakis.

Because language development is believed to be a critical component of overall brain development during early childhood, this reduced verbal interaction between children and adults may be responsible not only for language delays but for attentional and cognitive delays as well.

What is important to note here is that the study did not distinguish between children who were actively watching television and those who were merely in the vicinity of an audible television. In other words, just having the television on in the home reduced the number of words the child heard and spoke.

"Since 30 percent of American households now report having the television always on, even when no one is watching, these findings have grave implications for language acquisition and therefore perhaps even early brain development," warns Dr. Christakis.

The findings in this study certainly back up the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Public Education's recommendation that children under the age of two should not be exposed to television at all and that older children should be limited to no more than two hours per day.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.