July 15, 2008 -- Parents often watch their favorite television show while
young ones play nearby. But is that background TV affecting your child as he or
she plays with toys, even if they don't seem to be interested in the
A new study shows that even having the television on in the background can
disrupt toddlers as they play with
toys, causing them to lose focus during play.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts looked at 50 children, aged 1
to 3 years.
Children came to a laboratory playroom with a parent. Each child was invited
to play with toys for an hour. During half of that time a television was turned
on remotely in the room, playing an episode of Jeopardy! that included
During the other half hour, the television was turned off.
Each child was videotaped and observed by researchers during the study
period. Parents were in the room with the child but instructed not to play with
their child or encourage the child to play.
Here is what researchers found:
When the TV was on, the amount of time spent on toy playing was shorter.
This was the case even if the toddlers didn't seem to be interested in the game
show. The more a child peeked at the TV, the more it affected the child's toy
In a news release, researcher Marie Evans Schmidt said "background TV,
as an ever-changing audiovisual distractor, disrupts children's efforts to
sustain attention to ongoing play behaviors."
Schmidt is a research associate at the Center on Media and Child Health at
Children's Hospital Boston.
"Background TV is potentially a chronic environmental risk factor
affecting most American children. Parents should limit their young children's
exposure to background television."
In background information published alongside the findings, researchers
write that child development experts contend
that imaginative play is crucial to healthy cognitive and social skills
Researchers from this study speculate that constant background TV sound and
fleeting images may interrupt that healthy development.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen media for children
under age 2.
The findings appear in the July/August issue of Child