TV and Infant Speech Delay

By , June 23, 2009 9:44 pm

I have been a very minimalist blogger lately, popping in once a week to post the Linky for the Unplugged Project. I guess I have been taking a bit of a refreshing blog break. Time and inspiration permitting, I might be up for writing a bit more often than I have been.

So, here is my first TV-related post in a while for anyone interested in television and its effects on children.

Many thanks to my friend Wishy who is always way more up with current news than I am, and who kindly emails me links to any article she thinks might be of interest on my blog! I guess she is my Director of Current Affairs.

Here is Wishy’s latest find: Even Background TV May Delay Children’s Speech.  This article is nearly a month old, but that’s how long it took me to get around to writing my post.  Oh well.

According this MSNBC article, a new study* has found that for each hour of television exposure (even as background noise), infants heard 770 fewer words spoken to them by adults (a 7% decrease).  There was also a decrease in the number and length of children’s vocalizations, as well as child-adult conversation.

The possible explanation for this?  Here is the researchers’ conclusion:

“Some of these reductions are likely due to children being left alone in front of the television screen,” the researchers write in the June issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, “but others likely reflect situations in which adults, though present, are distracted by the screen and not interacting with their infant in a discernible manner.”

I would imagine that most mothers have been naturally chatting away with their pre-verbal babies since language first began.  But experts now realize that two-way linguistic interaction with adults is absolutely crucial for infant language development.

By the way, one startling fact from this article is that 30% of households have the TV on all the time.  Wow!

A final thought:  I wonder if too much talk radio would also have the same negative effect on language development.  I know when I am trying to listen to the news on NPR, I am not paying a whole lot of attention to what my children are saying either.

This is a good reminder for us all I think.


* The study, entitled Audible Television and Decreased Adult Words, Infant Vocalizations, and Conversational Turns, appeared in the June 2009 issue of The Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.  Here is a link to the abstract.  The full article is also available online with membership, or for a one-time access fee.


(Photo credit: clarita from

One Response to “TV and Infant Speech Delay”

  1. Jenny says:

    While I won’t plunk Rose down in front of the TV, I am guilty of having it one while she’s in the room. We tend to do that at the end of the day when we’re both tired, but it’s food for thought. And NPR is on every day while we have breakfast- I guess that’s why CJ is coming up with gems like, “Congress makes the laws in Afghanistan.” Very interesting stuff- I’ll definitely be thinking twice from now on.

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