As Linda Wasmer Andrews points out in her excellent article “How Background TV Undermines Well-Being”, there are two main ways that background TV is bad for you, it makes it harder to communicate, and it makes it harder to concentrate.
Harder to Communication
The importance of parents and caregivers talking to, and interacting with their young children has been well documented:
“After four years these differences in parent-child interactions produced significant discrepancies in not only children’s knowledge, but also their skills and experiences with children from high-income families being exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare. Follow-up studies showed that these differences in language and interaction experiences have lasting effects on a child’s performance later in life.”
And it turns out that background TV reduces and interferes with these all important interactions:
“A new study looks for the first time at the effect of background TV on interactions between parents and young children. Using an experimental design, researchers found that when a TV was on, both the quantity and quality of interactions between parents and children dropped. This study challenges the common assumption that background TV doesn’t affect very young children if they don’t look at the screen.”
“For every hour in front of the TV, parents spoke 770 fewer words to children, according to a study of 329 children, ages 2 months to 4 years, in the June issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Adults usually speak about 941 words an hour… Parents may not realize how little they interact with children when a TV is on, Christakis says. A mother may think she’s engaged with a baby because they’re both on the floor playing blocks. But if a TV is on in the background, the two of them talk much less, he says.”
“These findings suggest that TV co-viewing produces a relatively detrimental communication environment for young children, while shared book reading encourages effective mother–child exchanges.”
Harder to Concentrate
As numerous people have commented, TV, even if you aren’t watching it, is hard to ignore. TV has a magnetic pull, no matter what else you are doing, it is hard to ignore.
“Background TV was found to disrupt the toy play of the children at every age, even when they paid little attention to it. When the television was on, the children played for significantly shorter periods of time and the time they spent focused on their play was shorter, compared to when the TV was off.”
Also, TV increases the noise level, and as has been well documented, a noisy environment is not good for well-being.
“Can the noise level inside your house actually make it harder for your baby to learn to talk? Researchers now say turning down the TV can actually help your child find their voice faster.”
“We’ve known for a long time that chronic noise is having a devastating effect on academic performance of children in noisy homes and schools”
“It turns out that background television — even simple background noise — can affect young children more than we might think. According to a series of studies that have accumulated over the past decade, growing up in a noisy or “always on” TV environment may have negative consequences for speech development, playtime and parent-child interaction.”
For those not even trying to ignore the TV, who are instead multitasking TV watching while doing homework or surfing the web, the ill-effects of multitasking can be added.
“The 20 sixth grade students in this study averaged 7.1 ( 7th grade, 1st month) reading level with the television and radio off. These same 20 students averaged only 5.1 (5th grade 1st month) reading level with the radio on. The radio caused them to be more than 2 years BEHIND what they could perform normally. The same 20 students averaged 3.7 (3rd grade 7th month) reading level with the television on. The television caused them to be more than 4 years BEHIND what they could perform.”
“How long can you go without checking email, or glancing at your smartphone? Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University, says today’s nonstop multitasking actually wastes more time than it saves—and he says there’s evidence it may be killing our concentration and creativity too.”
American Academy of Pediatrics
All this helps explain why the AAP warns against background TV:
“The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned against “background television,” especially in homes with children under age 2, because it can harm children’s cognitive functioning and social play.”
A good reason to unplug the TV, or at the very least turn it off unless someone is actually watching a particular show.