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Can TV Impact Language Development?

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

There has been a lot written about television watching in children and the effects it has on their overall health and well being, including learning, moods, academics and even sleep habits.

A study published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine is interesting as it looked at how television, which may even be background noise, may interfere with parent-child interaction and conversation. In this study every hour that a child spent within earshot of a television, fewer words were spoken by the parents to their young children and fewer vocalizations were made by the children.

In the United States about 30% of households have their TV’s on all the time. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages television or even video viewing (why do all of those Baby Einstein DVD’s sell?) before the age of two, parents continue to have televisions and DVD’s playing not only at home but in the car, while a child isin their stroller holding the portable DVD or iPhone with a video playing etc.

I see this everywhere I go, even in the office exam rooms where we encourage reading a book while waiting, but many toddlers are adept at even turning on their own DVD.

This study showed that each additional hour of TV exposure by the child (study children ages 2 months – 4 years) was associated with a decrease of 770 words (about 7%) that the child would hear from an adult during a recording session.

Recording sessions were done on random days for up to 24 months during the study.

Additionally, the additional hour of TV exposure was associated with a reduction in the number and length of vocalizations in the child.

As pediatricians we are always concerned about language development, from the first babbles of a 2 -4 month old your-baby, to first words around 1, followed by putting words together at 15-24 months and then the sentences that 2-4 year olds use which become more complex with age.

Could it be that in some children who have language delays that we should be inquiring about television exposure, even as background noise? Pulling out books and music to stimulate language may be old fashioned but seems to be the gold standard.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

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