Last updated: June 2, 2009 - 8:17am
A study released Monday adds to the debate over whether television impairs children's language development. The study finds that parents and children virtually stop talking to each other when the TV is on, even if they're in the same room. For every hour in front of the TV, parents spoke 770 fewer words to children, according to a study of 329 children, ages 2 months to 4 years, in the June issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Adults usually speak about 941 words an hour. Children vocalized less, too, says author Dimitri Christakis of the Seattle Children's Research Institute. In some cases, parents may have spoken less because they sat a child in front of a TV and left the room, he says. In others, parents simply zoned out themselves while watching TV with a child. Researchers didn't note the content of the TV shows. Parents may not realize how little they interact with children when a TV is on, Christakis says. A mother may think she's engaged with a baby because they're both on the floor playing blocks. But if a TV is on in the background, the two of them talk much less, he says. That may help explain earlier studies finding that babies who watch a lot of TV know fewer words, although they catch up to their peers by 16 months, Christakis says. "Babies learn language from hearing it spoken," he says.
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