Mothers should not have the television on in the background when bringing up small children as it harms their speech development
Parents talk less to their children if the TV is on and youngsters also speak less, American researchers have found.
A study of children and babies from two-months-old to four-years-old found that for every hour the television was on, parents said between 500 and 1,000 fewer words to their children.
The more TV children were exposed to the fewer vocalisations they made and they also had fewer conversations with adults, the study by a team at the Centre for Child Health, Behaviour and Development in Seattle, found.
The study, published in the journal, Archives of Paediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, said the findings may explain the association between watching TV and delayed language in children.
Previous studies have shown that television and video viewing is associated with delayed speech in children and this is the first study to look at the effect television has on interactions between children and adults.
The paper said: “Each additional hour of television exposure was associated with a decrease of 770 in the number of words the child heard from an adult during the recording session (between 12 and 16 hours), which represents a seven per cent decrease.”
Lead author Dr Dimitri Christakis said: “Some of these reductions are likely due to children being left alone in front of the television screen, but others likely reflect situations in which adults, though present, are distracted by the screen and not interacting with their infant in a discernible manner. At first blush, these findings may seem entirely intuitive however, these findings must be interpreted in light of the fact that purveyors of infant DVDs claim that their products are designed to give parents and children a chance to interact with one another, an assertion that lacks empirical evidence.
“Furthermore, given that 30 per cent of households have televisions on all of the time, our results beg the question of how many opportunities of child and parent vocalizations are being displaced.”
The study involved 329 children who wore a small recording device on random days each month for up to two years which recorded everything they heard or said.
The recordings were then analysed using speech-recognition software to count adult words, vocalisations and conversations by the child and interactions between parent and child.
Only meaningful speech by the child was counted, excluding babbling and crying and because children of different ages and abilities were included in the study, the number of child vocalisations were given a score to cancel out the effect of age.
They wrote: “Whether parents talk less (or not at all) during some types of programs or at some times of the day may be as important in this age group as what is being watched.”
The American Academy of Paediatrics discourages television or video viewing before the age of two.