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Study Shows TV Distracts Babies

Ruby de Luna

Remember when your parents told you not to watch too much TV. They said it wasn't good for you? Turns out they were on to something. On Monday, June 1, the Seattle Children's Institute released a two–year study that examined the effects of television watching on infants. Researchers found that babies that watched television appeared to know fewer words.


Think about the last time you tried to talk to someone when the TV was on. You probably noticed they were distracted. A new study shows that TV is just as distracting to babies and their parents. Dr. Dimitri Christakis led that study.

Christakis: "What our research shows is that it's actually having discernible effects on the amount of time people talk to their babies and the amount of times babies talk to them; and that's concerning."

Christakis is with Seattle Children's Research Institute. His study focused on babies and toddlers between two months and two years old. The children wore vests with small audio recording devices. The machines captured everything the kids said and heard in a full day. The devices were removed when the child was sleeping or bathing. After two years Christakis and his colleagues analyzed the recorded data. They found that when the TV was on, babies talked 15 percent less and heard 20 percent fewer adult words. Adult caregivers were affected, too. They spoke fewer words or interacted less with babies when the TV was on.

Christakis: "It is concerning to me that it does affect the amount of time that parents talk to their children because we know that is really critical to language development. It's also critical, frankly, to the social development of babies as well, that kind of interaction that comes from speaking."

The TV content doesn't seem to make any difference. Christakis found that even DVDs that claim to promote language development don't stimulate babies the way face to face interactions do. Bottom line: screen time is not a good idea for children under two because their brains are still developing.

Christakis: "The newborn brain triples in size in the first two years of life, and the early environment is really critical to how babies actually develop and ultimately how they function well into adulthood."

Christakis says there's nothing inherently wrong with watching TV. But parents should be careful when exposing children to it at such a young age. The new study is published in this month's archives of "Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine." I'm Ruby de Luna, KUOW news.

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