Affects of Television on Young Children’s Brains

            For almost three generations parents have been telling kids to “turn off that television.”

            Now comes scientific evidence that, if parents want to help their children begin speaking and learning to understand the spoken word they’d better “turn off the television.”

            That’s the word from lead researcher Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington school of Medicine.

            Young children and their adult caregivers uttered fewer vocalizations, used fewer words and engaged in fewer conversations when in the presence of an audible television. Television during infancy has long been associated with language delays and attention problems but, until now, researchers were not able to pinpoint the reasons why.

            This study of 329 infants aged two months to four years old found that each hour of audible television was associated with significant reductions in child vocalizations, vocalizations duration and conversational turns. Children in the study wore business card-size digital recorders on random days for up to two years. The recorders captured everything the child said and heard during continuous 12 to 16 hour periods.

            On average, each additional hour of television exposure was associated with a decrease of 770 words – a seven percent decrease in words heard –  the child heard from an adult during the recording session and 500 to 1,000 fewer adult words were spoken per hour of audible television. Although adults typically utter approximately 941 words per hour, when the television is on parent’/adult-communication to infants is almost completely eliminated. From 500 to 1,000 fewer adult words were spoken per hour when the television was audible.

            In fact, in 2001 the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Public Education specifically recommended against screen-time for children under two yeas of age, urging more interactive play instead.

            For more information, see:

            The article also includes some valuable tips and resources for parents and caregivers.  It’s one present and future parents, caregivers and grandparents ought to read and follow-up on.  The full report – “Audible Television and Decreased Adult Words, Infant Vocalizations, and Conversational Turns: A Population-Based Study” – appears in the June 2009 edition of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Francis J. (Skip) Flynn, Psy. D.
7740 Southwest 52 Avenue
Miami, Florida 33143
(305) 271-0973

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