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More TV Means Less Talking Among Kids and Parents

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When should children be allowed to start watching TV? How much time should they be able to spend in front of the tube each day? These are hotly debated topics among parents everywhere. Some parents buy Baby Einstein DVD's and their children watch them from an early age. Other parents choose to wait until children are a little older before introducing TV. Some parents are very selective about what they let their kids watch; others are not. Although it's controversial, there are no "right" and "wrong" answers when it comes to this topic. But a new study might make some parents rethink the decision to allow TV from an early age.

Previous research has linked early TV exposure to language and cognitive delays. The idea is that the more time young children spend in front of the TV, the less time they spend interacting with and learning from parents, siblings, etc. A new study in the Archives of Pediatric s and Adolescent Medicine had children from ages 2-48 months wear a recorder for one day each month. The researchers found that for every hour a television was on, "the children on average heard 770 fewer words from an adult a 7 percent decrease. They also spoke less themselves."

Researchers theorize that they spoke less while watching TV. But parents were also distracted by the TV and ended up interacting less with their young children.

The TV is a touchy subject in my household. Personally, I wouldn't mind if we didn't have one. But my husband likes to have it on as a way to unwind at the end of the day. My children don't watch any TV yet, so when he turns it on, we compromise. We all stay in the same room, but I'll play with the kids or read them a book while he watches. I thought this was the ideal situation, until I read about this study. Although it's just one study with a small sampling of children, the results are not surprising.

I think everyone is different when it comes to watching TV. Sometimes it's hard to get my husband's attention if he's watching something he really likes. My daughter (who's 2 ) would rather make up stories and play with her toys than sit and watch a show. I like to think her wonderful imagination is due, in part, to the fact that she doesn't watch TV. My 6-month old son is a different story. He would stare at the TV for hours if I let him and is completely fascinated with it.

If you have young children, do you limit the amount of TV they watch? Do you limit the amount of time the TV is on in your house? If so, do you feel that your family interacts more because of it?

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I agree with PeggyJean13. TV has been a connection point between us and our girls (17 and 9). If they have something on their minds, it's going to come out when we're watching TV. Report
No tv for me till I was 23 years old. Still very lttle tv 40 years later, if it is a really good documenrary or movie DH and I can share thats good. Kids are all gone so i would rather be sparking. Report
I know I need to do better. My daughter watches TV, but she also does a lot of other creative things. She's really into the arts. She loves to draw, sing and play with her toys. So I think there is probably a decent balance, but I do think she should probably watch a little less TV. Report
"I actually think that TV is a waste of time. I love to read and always have my nose in a book. It is rare for to actually sit down and watch tv and if I do, then it has to be either really funny and really good thriller or cop drama that drags me in. I can't be still long enough. My daughter, she is 14, is the same way. She would rather listen to music than watch tv. "

Now reading is a VERY good habit to get your kids into! I remember my mom loved reading and we would have our trip to the library to load up on books and I absolutely loved it! I spent a LOT of time when I wasn't out playing, reading books! I continued to love reading into adulthood until the internet came along and now I use the internet in place of reading but I still go to the library just not as much. Hahah! The way I use the internet though, it's still mostly reading on websites like this one and such. So yes reading is definately a better habit to get kids into instead of TV. Report
I do have to admit, that is something to think about. I always thought age appropriate shows like Sesame Street were good for kids and teach them things and that age appropriate cartoons were niether good nor bad. I don't remember watching much TV growing up, I do remember watching the Little Rascals on TV after school then after that we always spent most of our time after school out playing. Oh and I loved Saturday morning cartoons but that was before the sun came up so, but once it was light outside, after Saturday morning cartoons we went out to play. Back then also, we didn't have cable and like a million TV channels eithers! LOL! :) Now today it's not only TV but internet time too that parents have to limit as well as computer games, those things to me are the same as TV because it keeps kids from interating with others or going outside to play. Some parents may think TV is fine as long as it's cartoon network and not some adult programming where kids learn bad words and other bad things. I do remember not being allowed to watch something on TV if it said "parental discretion advized" LOL! I used to hate that! Hhahah! I wanted to see it! So I guess children should not be left alone to just watch anything on TV. Good article and definately something to think about. :) Report
TV was the cheapest form of entertainment for our family when our kids were young but we always watched it together and discussed issues in the news and discussed why or why not we watched or did not watch certain shows. I think the key is to know what kids are watching and not just let them watch without interaction. Lots of times what was happening on tv allowed us to discuss subjects we would not otherwise: racism, drugs, sex, violence, attitudes. Report
I've struggled with this issue since my daughter was born, almost 13 months ago. We don't turn the TV off completely every day. When I'm home alone with her we do have TV free time several times intermittently throughout the day. However, right now, my husband is unemployed and is home all the time. He will not turn off the TV and I am growing concerned about the choices in programming he is making. If the TV is going to be on, I would prefer it to be family friendly shows. I'm making a change in the arrangment of our house and we'll now have an entire TV-free area for myself and my daughter to go to that I'll start making use of this weekend. Right now she's not saying too many words, and I definitely don't want her to be delayed because of choices her father and I make. Report
I think in general we all need to watch less TV. Partially because of the every-increasing proportion of garbage that networks are putting out these days, but also because it makes communication harder in a world where we're already isolated from each other in real life and pretend to have actual connections via newer technologies. Report
when my children were young we didn't have a tv but i finally gave in so they could watch sesame street. Then when school came the tv was not on from Sunday night thru Fri at 3pm period during school. Unless I had a note from the teacher or school, no tv. We had only one tv The way we monitored computer screen time - no problem you had it for xx time and after that it was OFF. My granddaughter lived with me for a while. I would just pull all the plugs on the router out - she never learned how that part worked. Some of my friends have timers on the PC using a program I believe called spectrasoft and it emails you where the children are going as well. What happened? one's a toxic tort lawyer and the other is an ee with her own computer business. Report
It seems clear to me that parents need to monitor whether tv affects family interactions and then take action. In our home, the tv is not on (even though my husband would like to use it to unwind) if something else is going on - dinner prep, instrument practice, dealing with issues that arise, mealtime etc.
We watch tv when everything else is out Report
I have seen to many parents and grandparents use a t.v. as a baby sitter. My friend newborn was put in front of a t.v. from get go. I hate this. We need to interact and actually raise our children ourselves. To many kids need a t.v. to go to sleep, do homework. We had a family t.v. ,everyone didn't have theire own. I think it is wrong and it show in our children. Report
I believe this to be true. I am a homeschool mom who does not allow television viewing till after 3 p.m. After school, I have noticed my five-year old asks for snacks regularly. I limit what he consumes but it seems that the commercials trigger the feed-frenzy. But as a parent, I must take the responsibility of controlling what his little body takes in. The commercials may control his mind and body but I MUST control what truly goes in it. Report
We do limit TV, but it's usually not an issue in the house. We have found enough other activities that our children enjoy they don't seem to miss tv. But we compromise as well - have movie nights, they have fave shows we watch together, for example - Extreme Home Makeover Report
I actually think that TV is a waste of time. I love to read and always have my nose in a book. It is rare for to actually sit down and watch tv and if I do, then it has to be either really funny and really good thriller or cop drama that drags me in. I can't be still long enough. My daughter, she is 14, is the same way. She would rather listen to music than watch tv. Report
I think that TV viewing should add to your life not be it. You need stimulations of all kinds, not just the visual. Interaction with people is hard enough to get in our society today, let's not limit our children and limit their social skills unnecessarily. Report
I think our TV is more for background noise than what we sit and watch it. We usually have Noggin network on but the kids are usually running around w/us or we are sitting on the floor playing together. My 2 year old tries to mimick things such as the dancing and singing on the shows. Report
My daughter is 2 and although the TV usually stays on, she doesn't really sit for very long watching it. She will sit for about 5-10 minutes, then she's off doing something else. But we are the same way. The TV is our background noise (instead of music), but it's usually something educational like Food TV, or one of the science channels, or her Playhouse Disney. I talk to her all the time, even as an infant, I would talk to her constantly while pushing her in a shopping cart or stroller, or in the car. So while the TV is on in the background, it's usually secondary to our interaction, and not the main focus. Report
TV has always sparks discussion in our home when my guys were younger. Back then we only had 1 tv. We are not silent watcher we are all up & down talking about what we are seeing.

I think it comes from yrs of traveling and talking about what we seen.

Hugs martha n tx Report
I am guilty!!
I love my tv even if I am not watching it and happen to be alone in the house I have it on. Report
I have never been a TV viewer and think there should be a limit to time kids spend watching TV. There are some good programs, especially for pre-schoolers where they can learn a lot. But many others are worthless.
I think family life is affected when too much time is spent in front of the TV. But cell phones also detract from family life. Whenever I see a mother talking on her phone, I want to say, "Spend your time talking to that child in the back seat or in your grocery cart, even if he is a newborn. Sing or say nursery rhymes." Family, especially children, should come first!!! Report
I watched a TON of TV growing up and when my life goes downhill (a move, more stress) I watch more TV. One of my goals in changing to more healthy living is to cut back. I'm down to about an hour or so a day, which is a HUGE decrease for me. I'm working on switching it with TV, walking, daydreaming, playing with my cats, etc. I wish I was more creative and I believe too much TV had an impact on that. Good for you for making a compromise! Stick with your gut feeling :) Report
We, in our family, watch TV. i think the important thing is that is not your life. Report
Both of my children, now ages 5 and 2 1/2, were exremely articulate at very early ages. Both watch TV and play on the computer with us (mostly Granted, we don't watch a ton of TV, and we are generally careful about the content (me more so than my husband), but I don't think TV is the evil box so many people make it out to be.

When my son was not quite 2, he learned the word "metamorphosis" from watching Little Einsteins on the Disney Channel. This is not a word I would have introduced to his vocabulary at that age, but he learned it and understood it. Now, I'm not saying that the television is my teacher of choice, but I am saying that are tons of educational, age appropriate options for children to watch.

Right now, my kids would both still prefer to play outside, read a book, or just play with their toys than watch TV. If their attitudes change and they start to want only the TV, we will add rules an restrictions about TV watching. In the meantime, I am comfortable with the quality, quantity and content of their TV watching.

But every child and every family is different. Report
When my daughter was in First grade, she struggled with reading. Her teacher pinpointed that we watched a lot of TV every day. She suggested putting the TV in the closet for a month, to see if my daughter's reading improved. I did that, and voila! My daughter's reading improved dramatically. So much so, that I ended up loving the "no TV" rule, and sold our TV. We went without TV for a few years, until subsequent teachers started requiring that their students WATCH TV programs (the news) for school projects. So I had to coordinate time at my parents' house for my daughter to complete these projects.
Several years later, I married a man who LOVES TV. He brought 3 children into our marriage, and we had to compromise. Now, our kids (my daughter is 18 now; his are 14 and 12-yo twins) don't watch TV Monday through Thursday during the school week. They can watch after school Friday, and also on Saturdays and Sundays. We don't limit the amount of time, but we do limit their computer time. We are big Red Sox and Patriots' fans, so we do spend a lot of time watching the games together as a family, because getting tickets to the actual events is pretty cost-prohibitive these days. Right now, we are actually watching Wimbledon, as I am a big tennis fan. I also watch the US Tennis Open when it is on. Since Wimbledon is in England, we watch during the day, during the week, which is a RARE occurrence in our house (to have the TV on before supper during the week). But again, I try to emphasize that TV is not something we revolve our lives around. We definitely emphasize school work as more important than TV (though my 14-yo would argue that watching the finals for American Idol is more important). Report
What a coincidence! We had our granddaughters for the weekend. When there is nothing else to do at Grandma's they will watch cartoons (most of which I don't get at all. Spongebob Square Pants??? Give me a break!). Anyway we were fortunate to have great weather this weekend so we spent 90% of the time outdoors. There was a circus in town so we took the kids to that. Midway through the circus the oldest (7 years) looked at me with enormous eyes and said "this is so much better than TV"
They are allowed to watch TV but they are encouraged to do crafts, play games, and to be active. When they watch TV at my house I try to find shows that are about nature, science, etc. Report
I do not have a TV at my house. Look in people's living areas. All furniture faces the TV. It is the central focus. At my house the central focus is my guests, my furry children and my home itself. I don't even enjoy visiting other people's homes when conversation has to be done louder than the TV. Report
I don't have cable, as I spend $45 a month for the internet and I like that I can watch YOUTUBE. Much more interesting to me. Report
I have not had time to read all of the comments so i don't know if anyone has made this observation yet. I think it is interesting that both of the people mentioned in the blog that were drawn to the TV were males and both that really don't care about TV are females. No matter what society tries to tell us, males and females really are different. One aspect of that would be that women like to sit and talk face to face but men don't mind doing something else (like watching TV or computering) while listening. This observation doesn't make any statement about whether all or someTV is worth the time or not, but I am a female so what do you think? Report
At least once a week, one or the other of us will say, "Why, exactly are we paying 60 bucks a month for this?"

Well, the reason is, we can't get the half-dozen channels we do like without the 200 we don't watch.

But still, I do sometimes resent the wedge the TV drives through our family. Why don't we just turn it off when we're not watching something we really want to see? I really don't need to watch all those NCIS reruns, just because they're on and I'm bored with washing dishes. Report
We didn't even have a tv till I was 9 (in the 50's that wasn't SO unusual) and I don't own one now. I found that even as an adult, I was thinking/imagining less when I watched, so I stopped. The only thing I miss is the way it distracted me while I'm doing the duller parts of my knitting, but I can rent movies for my computer for that.
I have always been very grateful to have been part of the pre-tv-addiction. I can entertain myself, for one thing. Report
Our TV is for movies only. There's no cable, and we used to get the 1 local channel in fuzzy, but not anymore. My boyfriend & I have just never been fans of TV. We watch a movie together once, sometimes twice a week. Report
When I was raising my children, and when I was a licensed home child care provider, I found the TV to be a wonderful teaching tool. It's all about monitoring what and how much they watch. TV can take us to wonderful places and expose us to new cultures as well as teach valuable life lessons and instigate quality discussions. Especially shows that have little or no advertising--on PBS for example, daytime Nickelodeon shows, or videos, I see no harm plus lots of good in letting the children watch. Also, I think if a child is deprived of any TV whatsoever he will unfairly be a little bit "behind the times" in not knowing what the other children are talking about when it comes to popular kid shows. No child wants to be left out of peer interaction.

Where we run into trouble is when parents park their kids in front of it and use it as a babysitter, or don't pay attention to making sure what they watch is age-appropriate, or when they use too much of a good thing. Report
When my daughter was born and up to this last year we had no cable and we only watched videos from time to time. We never missed TV. We read a lot of books and spent time outdoors. We also did a lot of crafts and art projects. This past year the cable company gave us free cable with our internet for a year and I am already very tired of it. Dumb shows seem even more dumb after the passage of time and many of the new shows are dreadful. I have noticed that we spend a lot less time interacting when the TV is on. There are few shows we can discuss together and many I wouldn't ever want her to see. I too have noticed that my daughter is very cranky when she spends too much time watching TV and I can remember feeling very tired and out of sorts after watching TV all day Saturday as a child. We recently got a subscription to Netflix and we have been watching the better shows and documentaries there. The cable is going away; goodbye and good riddance to TV.! Report
Screen time decreases talk time as the article in the pediatric journal demonstrated. Time parents spend on the internet is possibly an even bigger challenge b/c it is not a shared experience the way listening to the radio or watching tv can potentially be.................
i have to watch this with regard to when i am sparking! Report
Growing up my family "life" revolved around the TV - meaning my parents eyes were glued to it and there was not a lot of interaction. I made a very concious choice to change this for my kids. We put our TV behind the doors of an armoire and are very carefully with what and how much our kids watch it. My general rule is no more than 2 hours total screen time. But most days they have much less than that, especially my older one who is in school. We don't allow the TV to be just left on as background noise. If it is on then you are watching a program. I can really see the difference in them on days when they have more TV from the days that are TV free. In general the boys have not had problems with our rules - it is just our way of life. Report
When my boys were young I utilized a token system (with dollar store poker chips) that allowed 1 hr of TV/day. This way they chose their programs very carefully. I also started the tradition of family movie night on Saturdays (which didn't count for their tokens). This worked really well while thet were young...
Now that they are teenagers (and single parenting with a much younger sister), they watch more TV and not a lot all together...although AFV is still a family favourite ;) Report
I have a screen time rule at home, an hour a day for our 7-year-old son. He does pretty well in keeping the rule when I am at home. Things are different when I have to go to work and he stays home with his dad. I am sure they always watch TV/movie together because my husband doesn't know what to do with him. And they always keep that a "secret" from me, like I wouldn't find out! LOL Report
I'm coming at this from a time when TV was first introduced right through to having grandchildren so there is some history. My oldest son loved the TV from the beginning and continues to be hooked on the screen. He was slow to talk but eventually caught up with everyone else. I find it interesting that they say children have less interaction with family but then they are getting a lot of vocabulary from the screen - not the same I know. My other two children were not as taken with the television and both were great talkers and had great vocabulary as kids and of course as adults. Interestingly my granddaughter is very choosy in what she watches and is quick to turn the television off once she has watched her show. It is then translated through her imagination into a variety of stories which she produces. I must admit that she also loves books and at three does not read yet but makes the stories up from the pictures. It is a delight to watch. My grandson at one has no interest in the television at all, not even the bright colourful shows. Parents do need to be mindful of the content of shows children watch and the way they react to them. As an adult I find that television can steal a huge proportion of your life but it can also bring much knowledge of the world into the living room. For me, that is something important but to know of every disaster that is happening in the world from the news can be very depressing. Report
When my daughter was young, we did limit the amount of TV she could watch AS WELL AS what she could view. We read to her, played with her, and had her help with household chores.

But, as a teacher, I do think TV viewing and computer game usage should be limited. But sometimes, especially in lower SES families, students are exposed to a larger vocabulary--words they will need in an everyday world but usually not heard at home. (Even though vocabulary is limited, such as stated above, some shows have better word choice.)

Two sides of the coin... Report
When my daughter was young (7-10), at most I let her watch 30 minutes, usually a quality family show (with good values) she loved. Inevitably, even after 30 minutes she would "explode" and need to quietly sit together. She benefited most from 1:1 time, often reading together. Under the best of conditions today, children are often over stimulated. Though hating the limitation as a child, my daughter, a mom herself, fully agrees. I would live without a TV; similarly, it is my husband's way to relax in the evening. Sometimes I join him, but not when babysitting my grandson. Report
Its just about moderation and monitoring what is on. Our daughter watches TV and is a 6 year old who can read at a second grade level and whose math and science levels are past the first grade entry level...appears she has not been harmed by the "idiot box" in as much as she's been helped by it in her academics and understading of the world outside our po-dunk town. We read more than we watch but we also like playing video vames and spending time outside at teh local zoo and parks...Its all about balence! Report
I think TV time should definitely be limited for people of all ages, not just children. I haven't watched TV since I started Spark People except for rare incidences. Now that TV has changed to High Definition I took this opportunity to stop watching altogether. I thought I would miss it more but you find other things to do. Read, exercise (I still have a TV so I can do Leslie Sansone walking DVDs), cook healthier meals, organize, write, etc. If I really need to sit and watch something I'll go to and watch an episode of some show I like. I think children would be far better off without TV. I think they would use their imaginations more, problem solve more efficiently, and read more. I believe we need to be taking children to the library, to museums, to plays, musicals, to the park, to historical places, etc. and playing board games or card games with them. Provide them with toys that encourage an imagination. Start a small garden that they can take ownership in as they care for it. I strongly recommend taking a break from TV or limiting hours of exposure. At the very least, choose one day a week where the TV is not turned on at all. Report
I have seen the effect of watching just on my boyfriend and I. He watches to wind down but could watch for long periods of time. We don't even really like to watch the same things! So I get bored or use the internet but either way 100% of the time we are watching TV is time we could be enjoying each other instead... Report
I enjoy watching cartoons with my GS and we talk a lot about what's going on. We were watching the Madagascar Pinguins yesterday (marathon YESS!!!). We both love that show and during the commercials we talked about jealousy and sharing friends.

I don't approve of sitting a child down in front of a TV to vegetate. I'm all for sharing experiences with a child including watching the child's favorite as well as mine (Wheel of Fortune). Report
I do think that lots of TV crowds out communication and takes away imagination. I limited the amount of TV my kids watched when they were small, and I've encouraged my daughter to do the same with her child. Report
i am a mom of 3 (now 16,18, and 20). I allowed my children to watch tv on a limited basis. I was a daycare operator, a teacher and very involved with my children's education.
Tv was not on in the summer at all- unless it was raining- then it was a family friendly movie(feature films for families). Report
This is nothing new. If the "idiot box" is on, then that's what the person watching it becomes.The see nothing , they hear nothing (other than the tv) and they DO nothing.
One year I did implement a tv rule. The kids got only ONE show to watch after school, and it was Bill Nye The Science Guy. Since dad was home on weekends, they couldn't choose what to watch (besides dad usually played nintendo on the only tv in the house) so they'd go OUT and PLAY. The oldest had a hard time doing that, I think it was an "age" thing. We all go through different phases at different ages from not eating veggies to anti-socializing.
That year was my best choice for my kids (especially as I was in mid-crisis mode of my depression - surprising to me now that I could make a choice like that then) Report
One of the best parenting decisions I have ever made was to start the "no tv on school days" rule. We hardly had enough time for homework and dinner as it was but to add t.v. watching on-top of that??? It was just crazy! Now our evenings are much calmer and the kids (12, 10, and 6) actually play board games with each other and read books. Of course we limit t.v. on the weekends as well. Everything in moderation--isn't that the key with almost everything??? Report
As the bumper sticker says - kill your television! I grew up without one, and our kids do not watch any tv (except in hotels when we travel - which is rarely!) They do get to watch movies, but only 1 per weekend usually. Makes me crazy to be in a house where the tv is always on, and my son is so sucked in by it, that "reentry" is difficult for him. We really don't miss it! Report
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