Attention Span and Television
Frequently, parents will watch television or have it on in the background while their kids are playing in the same room. Although the children may show little or no interest in the television programming, the study published in Child Development indicates that even as background noise, the simple fact of having the television on can impact a child.
In this study, children were allowed period of time where they played with the television on, and then a period of play time with the television off. The primary difference between these two play periods was in the amount of time their attention was engaged in play. With the television on, children spent far less time looking at toys and in focused engaged play activities than they did when the television was not on.
This finding is significant because it may be an indication that having a television on at home, even if the children do not appear to be watching or interested in the television programming, can be extremely distracting for children. With a constant barrage of changing visual images and sounds, it may be that children have difficulty filtering out this excess stimulation, making it hard for them to concentrate on developmental tasks such as learning through playing.
Cognitive Function and Television
In a study with similar findings published in Pediatrics, researchers discovered that the type of programming also had a significant impact on cognitive function in children. In this study, children were allowed to watch a fast-paced cartoon and then asked to perform several executive level cognitive tasks that involved delayed gratification and simple stacking activities.
Researchers discovered that children who watched the television programming performed more slowly on executive level cognitive function activities than control children who sat quietly drawing for the same period of time. Although the effects of watching fast-paced television programming appeared to be temporary in this study, it cannot help but beg the question of the impact that constant bombardment of television has on a child's development.
Recommended Hours of Television for Children
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, American children under the age of six watch an average of two hours of television a day. Children over the age of six watch an average of four hours of television daily. Also, older children tend to spend two hours of additional time either in front of a computer screen or playing video games. This is a large amount of time that children spend every day watching television, instead of playing, reading or being engaged in other healthier activities. High amounts of sedentary activity, such as playing video games and watching television are also associated with higher incidences of obesity and other health problems.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two watch zero hours of television daily. Further, they recommend that children over the age of two watch no more than one or two hours of television daily.
During the early years of a child’s development, children need to be allowed to play in environments free of unnecessary or overly stimulating distractions. Even as children get older, large amounts of television can prevent children from needed developmental tasks such as physical activity, academic pursuits and socialization with other children and their family. Parents should limit the amount of time their children are exposed to television, even if they are not actively watching the programming. Instead, encourage your kids to engage in healthy play that simulates their imagination, creativity and social skills.