Allowing the television to remain on when no one is watching negatively impacts children’s learning and development, according to a new study that investigated the effects of television on children’s social and emotional development.
Specifically, the University of Iowa (UI) researchers found that the background noise of TV diverts a child’s attention away from playing and learning. The researchers also found that allowing children to watch programs that are non-educational in nature hinders their cognitive development as well.
“Kids are going to learn from whatever you put in front of them,” says lead author Deborah Linebarger, associate professor in education at UI. “So what kinds of messages, what kinds of things do you want them to learn? That would be the kinds of media you’d purposefully expose them to.”
The findings, published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, are based on a national survey of more than 1,150 families with children between two and eight years old. The researchers examined family demographics, parenting styles, media use, and how those factors could impact kids’ future success.
The team found a connection between the content children are exposed to and their executive cognitive functioning. This was especially strong among children in families identified as high risk — such as families living in poverty or families whose parents have little education.
Yet even children from high-risk families who watched educational television saw increases in executive function, the researchers found.
“Regardless of family demographics, parenting can act as a buffer against the impacts of background TV,” said the researchers.
“Children whose parents create a home environment that is loving and nurturing and where rules and expectations are the same from one time to another are better able to control their behavior, display more empathy, and do better academically,” Linebarger says.
In particular, she suggests that parents be mindful what shows their children are watching, especially the content of the program.
“Sit down to watch a particular show and when it’s done, turn it off,” she says.
In a previous study, Linbarger and another team found that children, on average, are exposed to nearly four hours of background TV each day. One of the sneaky effects of background TV is that it pulls children’s attention away from other activities, such as playing and learning.
Source: University of Iowa