Wednesday, July 1, 2009

TV Decreases Children's Language Use

I think in a lot of ways that it makes sense. If young children are watching TV then they're not interacting with adults. Interaction is the way children learn how to communicate, what words to use, and the back and forth of turn-taking. Turn-taking provides a critical foundation for language learning.

A recent study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine was reported in the Huntsville Natural Parenting Examiner today. I went and hunted down the original study. I was interested in what the practical effects were and what they did exactly.

The researchers used a system called LENA. This system uses a digital processor to record and count the language (in words) children produce and what they hear throughout the day. For research this is a powerful way to track children's linguistic exposure and to document their development. The researchers used LENA for this purpose. They examined how many words children heard spoken by adults, how much television they heard, and how many words they used.

They found that for every hour children listened to television (or that television was on in the presence of the child), they heard between 500-1000 fewer words. They were about 1/4 of a standard deviation lower in their vocalizations and turn taking for every hour of television they heard. Children who were exposed to television used correspondingly fewer turns for every hour of hearing TV.

What does this mean? From a practical perspective, more TV means less interaction. Less interaction seems to lead to less language learning. Of course there are times when parents simply need children to pay attention to something else. I remember those early months when even taking a shower uninterrupted seemed like a big accomplishment. We do need strategies for getting through the day and television could be one of those tools. But, especially for young children, it should not be the only one or even the primary one. I still agree that limiting TV exposure for children-- especially those under two (but even older kids) will lead to more productive communication.

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