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.”