Background TV Can Be Bad For Kids

I am one of those mothers who can't stand having the TV on during the day. 

With four kids in the house, I have enough noise going on, and I've found that having the TV on–besides providing extra temptation for my kids to sit and watch, slack-jawed, while I pretend not to notice–just adds more chaos to the day. Maybe it's the overstimulation for myself that I don't like, but either way, I (in general) prefer the TV off during the day. 

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But I'm definitely not the norm–many mothers like to have the TV on during the day, enjoying the background noise that the TV can provide, even if the kids aren't sitting and watching. “I don't usually watch TV, but I like the background noise,” says writer Molly Cerreta Smith. “Whether the kids are here or not I always have noise going.” 

I understand that sentiment, especially when the kids are very little and staying at home can be isolating, but a new study has revealed that even turning the TV on for background noise may actually be damaging to children's development. 

Image via Flickr/ Yoshihide Nomura

The study, out of the University of Iowa, states that even if your children aren't actively sitting down and watching, your child will be distracted enough by the screen's sounds and images to deter them from the important work of playing. And as we all know, playing is the “work” of childhood, and so much more goes on in their brains than we realize just from the act of playing. Think of it this way: even as an adult, isn't it difficult to get back to the task at hand when you are momentarily distracted in the middle of a project? (Facebook, I'm looking at you. Er, I mean, I'm trying not to …)

In earlier studies, the team of researchers found that most children are exposed to nearly four hours of background TV a day, a number that seems shockingly high, especially when you factor in “intentional TV” that might also be going on, like the family sitting down at the end of the day to enjoy a program together. 

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The study also found that, not surprisingly, the type of TV programs being displayed impact a child's cognitive development. So while you may have that somewhat risqué talk show going on in the background, the material is still making its way to your child's brain. 

Bottom line?


The researchers of the study backed up the American Academy of Pediatrician's recommendation that the TV be turned off for background noise during the day, but that in moderation, TV can be fine–and even beneficial–for children who are watching quality, educational shows. 

Do you have the TV on during the day for background noise?

What do you think?

Background TV Can Be Bad For Kids

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

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  1. Ashley says:

    I’m sorry, but I completely disagree. I won’t deny the fact that my son watches tv for thirty minutes when he wakes and before bed. He even has a television in his room and in the car. In addition, I’ve got it running in the background all day long. However, I think it has more to do with what is on that television than the fact that it is a television. My son is very active and has a crazy imagination. He’s spoken in full sentences since he turned two. He could count to 15 when he was 18 months. I would put his intelligence up against any child. He watches Disney Jr and Nick Jr. Those shows, in addition to activities we do, have been building blocks for his education. I appreciate everyone’s opinions, but have to say that television is not responsible for laziness or ignorance.

    • megan says:

      Agree too. It doesn’t necessarily have any relation to kids intelligence level. My son is ahead of everyone in his kindergarten class and is testing currently where he needs to be by the end of school year. He gets private lessons and more stimulus, work and activities to keep him interested. And he loves using his imagination and very much enjoys help in other kids…he even helps his grandparents with fixing their computer or smartphone problems which isn’t a bad thing either.

    • Roshanda says:

      I strongly agree with you, because my daughter who is now five watched nick jr, leap frog and several other brain stimulating program’s. She knew her letters in song, sounds of each and could identify them by 18 myths as well. I would have to say that every child is different and television may not be their way of learning. At five years old my daughter reads on a third grade level with a lot of learning attributed to television program’s. But I have another daughter who preferred reading as her way of learning. I value opinions however parents must so what works for themselves especially their children.

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