As if we really need another reason to shut off, unplug, and bury the television, a University of Massachusetts study has revealed that the din of background noise coming out of a television provides significant disruption to your child’s concentration and play.
The study looked at children, from ages ranging from 1 to 3, who were put in a room/lab and encouraged to play with toys while a nearby TV blared some insipid adult programming (read: game show/commercials). The study found that while the children did not pay much direct attention to the TV, the TV functioned as an “ever-changing audiovisual distractor’’ that severely limited the children’s focused attention, resulting in shorter playtime with objects, as opposed to the children who did not have the televisual distraction.
In short, even an unwatched TV messes with your child’s ability to be a child. This should serve as fair warning to parents and caregivers who justify their “TV as companion” habits as inoffensive, and harmless. The fact is, according to this study, that the mere presence of a live TV is competing for your child’s attention (don’t blame the TV, it is simply the TV’s nature) and therefore shortchanging your child with a deeply discounted real-life experience.
While I haven’t done the research, I would imagine this idea applies to straight audio distraction, as well. Other published reports I have read (I am losing credibility here because I can’t remember the names of such reports to back up my claims) maintain that even the presence of background music can hinder a young child’s ability to absorb a story or fully engage in a task.
So, even your beloved NPR program or that well-worn Baby Einstein CD may be serving as a subtle, if not irksome, disruption to a child that just wants to get some quality playtime in. My suggestion, listen to music when you are listening to music, and leave all other audio and visual diversions out of the equation when child’s play is on the agenda.