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08th Jul 2019

Your TV might be harming your toddler’s speech development, research finds

Trine Jensen-Burke

Speech development

Are you worried about your toddler not picking up words as quickly as some of his little friends or still babbling away in baby language?

You might want to turn down the TV when you are at home.

Many of us are guilty of leaving the TV blaring in the background, whether we are actually watching it or not, but scientists have now pointed out that this might, in fact, be damaging to babies’ and toddlers’ speech development.

Why? Because background noise is making it harder for them to learn new words.

This is what lead study author Brianna McMillan from University of Wisconsin-Madison had to say about the research:

“TV and radio are an ever-present part of most homes nowadays. While I don’t think that children need to be raised in completely silent environments, I think that reducing the amount of background noise may help support children’s language development.”

McMillan’s study involved 106 toddlers, ages 22 to 30 months. Researchers taught children the names of unfamiliar objects, and then tested them, in three different experiments, on how well they could recognize the objects and recall the new words.

In the first two experiments, both younger and older toddlers learned new words better when background speech was quieter. In the third experiment, older toddlers in a noisy environment were only able to successfully learn new words they had previously heard in a quiet environment.

This third experiment suggests that first exposing children to new words in a quiet setting may help them learn their meaning later—even when distractions are present—study co-author Jenny Saffran said in a press release. And when the environment is noisy, she added, “drawing children’s attention to the sounds of new words may help them compensate.”

In recent years, more experts have pointed out just how important it is for parents to engage their children in talk and chit chat to aid language development. But while you are doing this, McMillan reminds us also to think about what else is going on around the children while these conversations are happening.

“I think my research highlights that children are very adept word learners, but they are at the mercy of their environment,” she says. “In addition to encouraging parents to talk to their children more, it is also important to encourage parents to think about how their general home environment may influence their child’s development.”