Noise Annoys: Second-Hand Television

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.


Cheryl B.
Cheryl B.5 years ago

thanks for the info

Marykay L.
Marykay L.8 years ago

I haven't let my 2-year-old watch TV yet either and I am proud to say he is very verbal. More so than his similar age cousin who watches lots and his Mom seems to thing that she learns from it. My question is, has there been a study to find out if early exposure to TV has something to do with the ADD and ADHD epidemic in our country? If so, I would love to know about it.

Denise Tankha
Vijay Tankha8 years ago

I thought this most informative. I've always felt thatTV background din, is somehow going to affect kids. Its good that research has thrown up these findings. maybe parents and caregivers will sit up and pay attention.

Rebecca Young
Rebecca Young8 years ago

thank you for another reason for me to hold off on any TV for my twins! they're a month away from being 2 yrs old and we haven't let them watch any TV yet. (the "we" is driven almost entirely by me, so if you find any other good studies out there, please post!) they're very verbal, very creative, and I just really don't feel that TV would benefit them in any way right now in their lives. Maybe when they're in their mid 30s and need to flatline for an hour after a day with their toddler twins :) but not now.