The first ever national study to investigate the effects of background television exposure, or being in the same room as a blaring television without necessarily watching it, has found that young children are affected quite dramatically by this inadvertent media vulnerability. According to researchers from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), children on average are now exposed to more than five hours a day of television, which is basically turning their brains into mush.
The research, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, includes data collected via telephone from 1,500 parents with young children, all of who reported on the daily TV-watching habits of their families. These parents were asked to estimate how many hours throughout the day their television sets were on, and roughly how many of these hours their young children were in the same room with the switched-on television.
It was determined that, on average, children spend 80 minutes a day directly watching TV, and a whopping 232 minutes a day in the presence of a switched-on television. This translates into an average of more than five hours per day of television exposure among children aged eight months to eight years, which is a significantly higher amount than exposure levels tabulated in previous studies.
Background television noise disrupts proper childhood development, creates ‘zombie’ children
So why is background television exposure, which accounts for about 80 percent of overall exposure, such a big deal? According to the research, the background noise emitted from a television set can thwart the proper development of children’s brains, and distract them to the point that they are unable to focus during conversations, or properly interact with other human beings. For many children, excessive background television exposure can also severely limit proper cognitive development and formative speech patterns.
“This is a clear warning signal to parents that if they are not watching TV, they ought to turn it off,” says Dr. Victor Strasburger, a pediatrician from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque who has previously studied media exposure among children, but who was not involved in the new study. “[It is also] a reminder that parents should be avoiding screen time in infants under two.”
To help clarify the importance of limiting television exposure, Dr. Strasburger says that when parents bring their children to his practice, he can usually discern which ones spend a lot of time in front of the television, and which ones spend a lot of time reading books with their parents. The former typically do not interact much and sit silent, while the latter usually love to chat and interact with the nurses and doctors.
“Think about it. It’s confusing for babies who are trying to get their language together to have indistinguishable voices in the background,” adds Dr. Strasburger. “It means their language development is threatened. They may catch up, but it’s a concern.
Earlier studies have found that television exposure among children can lead to poor eating habits, obesity, poor mental health, and various other developmental problems. As can be expected, the more time children spend indoors near, or in front of, the television, the less time they spend outside interacting with others, getting exercise, and getting exposure to natural sunlight, which is a primary source of health-promoting vitamin D.
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