background tv bad for kids
July 29, 2014

Even A Little Background TV Impacts Executive Functions In Children

Rayshell Clapper for - Your Universe Online

How much television is too much for children? According to a new study lead by University of Iowa associate professor in English Deborah Linebarger, even background TV can be bad for children.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Public Broadcasting System for the Ready to Learn Initiative, the findings come from a national survey of more than 1,150 families with children between 2 and 8 years old.

According to a Heather Spangler of the University of Iowa, "Linebarger and her team looked at family demographics, parenting styles, media use, and how those factors could impact kids’ future success."

What they found was that the more TV in a child's life, the more distracted he or she is from learning and playing. TV diverts the child's attentions so that whatever play or learning activity they are doing receives less attention and, therefore, less focus.

[ Watch: Deborah Linebarger Discusses The Effect Of Background TV On Children ]

Specifically, the findings showed a strong relationship between a child's executive function and what content they are exposed to on TV. Executive function plays an important role in learning and developing. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, executive functions help connect past experiences with present actions through a set of mental processes. In other words, it helps us learn. Therefore, if television distracts executive functioning, then it stands to reason learning is distracted as well.

So called "high-risk" children are particularly prone to distracted or even impaired learning due to background television. High-risk children and families in the study were those "in families living in poverty or families whose parents have little education, for example."

The only caveat to this study was that educational television programs did not have a negative impact on children's executive functioning. In fact, educational television increased functioning in all demographics including high-risk families.

Linebarger and her fellow researchers suggest that parents limit the amount of time children spend in front of the TV as well as with background TV. Parents should sit down to watch specific shows with their children, and when the show ends, they should turn the television off and move to a new activity with their children. Parenting is key in buffering the negative impact of TV on executive functioning. The team further suggests that parents be mindful of what content children are watching or even just exposed to through background noise.

“Kids are going to learn from whatever you put in front of them...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," Linebarger stated.

So much exists in the world to distract children already. Allowing them time to learn, play, and create without the impetus of television is incredibly important for their cognitive growth. We know that we cannot keep children from television completely seeing as even restaurants, retail stores, and events play television shows, but we can at least monitor how much television children view at home including how much they are exposed to as background noise.

Linebarger did an earlier study which showed children already have about four hours of background TV exposure, so now is the time to change. We must control what content children watch at home as well. Television can be beneficial, especially education television programs, but parental intervention and buffering is key to making sure that television is, in fact, improving the executive functions of children and not distracting them.

The paper is published online in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.