How TV Noise Can Affect Our Kids

I’m all about articles and research on television and children- you know that- so when I ran across this article on the NY Times, I thought it would be great to bring up here.

It’s an older article; TV Background Noise Disrupts Child Play, but it’s still a great reminder. Even if you’re child isn’t watching TV, the noise it plays can be a huge distraction during important play time. Instead of a child focusing on what he is doing, how he is doing it and creating and thinking of new things, he is distracted by the loud and fast talk of a television. The morning news or Sesame Street, words are words… or jumbled words on television.

We try to really limit TV in our house and most of our show watching happens at night after Lucas is in bed. But I won’t pretend like I never turn Ellen on or watch the news. Because I do. Sometimes I will watch bits of something while Lucas is eating in his high chair faced away from the TV. But he can still hear the noise. A child doesn’t have to be literally sitting in front of the TV watching it to be effected by it.

The other day my husband was watching the olympics and Lucas was just staring at it. I really hate to see him watching the screen. I asked my husband to turn it off and he (joking, I think) said It’s just the olympics! It’s like me saying (which I have) It’s football! or.. It’s just Gilmore Girls! It doesn’t matter what the show is. To a child, TV is TV. We need to have it off when our kids are in the room.

An excellent reminder, I think. Here’s an expert from the article on NY Times:

Researchers said that even though the children weren’t interested in the show, background TV is an “ever-changing audiovisual distractor” that disrupts their ability to sustain various types of play. The finding is important because many well-meaning parents who wouldn’t let their young children watch television may not realize that even adult programs that don’t interest children still can have an effect.

“Background TV is potentially a chronic environmental risk factor affecting most American children,” said Marie Evans Schmidt, a research associate at the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital in Boston and lead author of the study, in a news release. “Parents should limit their young children’s exposure.”

This is so me. I don’t let my child watch movies, or put him in front of the television during a cartoon or turn on Elmo for him, but something I’m watching might be playing in the background. I do notice that if the TV is one while he’s in the room, he will turn to look at it no matter what show is on. He doesn’t care if it’s Batman or Looney tunes, it’s just a bunch of flashing colors to him that catches his attention.

What a great reminder, that noise can be just as important as the actual television screen. A whole new way to look at things.

Do you ever have the television on while your kids are playing? What are the rules of TV watching in your household? For your kids and you! I’m guilty of watching way too many pathetic evening shows.

Published by Samantha Mellen

Certified personal trainer & health coach helping women transform their lives through fitness, abundant mindset coaching and internal peace. Mom of two boys, living life in Alaska.

27 thoughts on “How TV Noise Can Affect Our Kids

  1. Hmmm lots to think about.

    Logan has become quite the little man and he turns on the TV as soon as he gets up in the morning. I let him watch a show, usually Monster Jam, and then I try to remember to turn it off. I don't always do it, though. But having the TV on as background noise kind of bugs me, so generally I'll catch it.

    When Logan is watching, usually I have Jordan out of the room, but not always. And yeah, I hate it that he will watch ANYTHING. He will actually push my face out of the way if I block his view. I can't STAND that!

    Through the day we have the TV off, or at least the screen is off and it's set to the light classical music station. That, by the way, seems to make the day go a little smoother. I swear the kids behave better if the music is on.

    Logan has been trying to get the TV on more and more through the day and I have been trying to limit it. He is allowed to watch something (usually Monster Jam again, sigh. It's on from 7-8am and from 5-6pm here) while i'm making dinner. So, I guess Logan gets about 2 hours a day and Jordan probably watches around a half hour. Too much.

    Actually, Logan probably watches more lately because when Hubby sits down to watch the Olympics, Logan sits with him while i'm putting Jordan to bed.

    And the weekends? Grrr…. I don't think my husband could function with the TV off. It drives me nuts. It's on the second he gets up, he leaves it on, even if he goes into the basement. He leaves it on all day and if I turn it off, he turns it back on. Even when we go on vacation, as soon as we enter a hotel room, the TV comes on.

    As for me, I watch the Bachelor, the Biggest Loser, Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice, but I DVR them all since I can't stay up past 9, and I try to watch them before the kids get up. Doesn't always work. I have the last 2 weeks' worth of Grey's and PP to watch still!

    I can say, though, that I think I would be able to live happily without a TV at all. I end up fast-forwarding most of the shows I watch anyway.

  2. We can go weeks without watching, then other times it's almost as if it is on all morning. He doesn't continuously watch it, but he will play around the house with it on in the background. When he was much younger and I would watch my shows I would turn him around to face me and play, I have heard the noise and flashyness can over stimulate babies?? I guess I was cautious in the beginning haha. But on the average day he will get up at 8 and watch 2 15 min kids shows then he's off to play.

  3. We don't have regular TV programming in our home and I wouldn't have it any other way. No commercials coming into our home has been a huge blessing for our family. My kids aren't as focused on what they can get and are more interested in playing with each other and us.

    That being said, we do allow movies but we always fast forward through the previews. If the kids want to watch something I ask them if there's any jobs they can get done first and they are more than happy to do them. In our house watching a movie is a treat they have to earn. Because we are so strict about it, it's never on in the background. If we are going to watch something then we're going to WATCH IT.

    Some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around family movie night where my dad would pop popcorn and we'd eat ice cream half way through the Sunday Night Movie. We have carried on that tradition with our kids – usually with a Charlie Brown classic on a Saturday night.

  4. I rarely watch TV so I don't turn it on while the kids are awake. I watch one show on Monday nights.

    My three year old gets to watch 30 min – 1 hr of Nick Jr. (Dora, Oswald, etc) each day. She actually learns from them.

    My almost 2 year old will not watch TV for longer than 5 minutes.

    I am always telling my husband to turn the TV off, especially on the weekends! He grew up with the TV ALWAYS on and it drives me nutso!

  5. I'm SO excited for movie nights. I can't wait till Lucas is older and we can start watching movies as a family.

    I want to watch Toy Story.. that was like my favorite movie and I haven't seen it in FOREVER! 🙂

  6. I am like you… I don't want him watching tv, but am totally guilty of watching it myself… and I usually have it on almost all the time as background noise…. I may be turning it off more now. =)
    Thanks for sharing that article!

  7. I struggle with this. I hate having it on, and I hate having my daughter (who's not quite 2) asking to watch tv. But then again, she also can count to ten and say her abcs and sing songs and likes to read to herself and play, so is that hour of tv she watches really that bad? I almost never watch tv in the day, if it's on it's for her.

    I can see I'm not alone in that on the weekends my husband has the tv on all the time. Is that a dude thing or what??

  8. This is great information. Thanks so much for sharing this! Our kids don't watch a lot of TV, but my hubs does watch it at night while the kids are playing on the floor. I never even CONSIDERED the fact that the sound could affect them. Thanks again- Im going to show this to my husband too!

  9. I am guilty of letting my kids watch TV. It depends on the day, but usually they watch about 30 minutes of either a TV show or a movie while I am getting dinner ready. We have REALLY cut back though- they used to watch about an hour or two in the mornings as I was getting ready. Now, I just ignore the TV and they do too.

    Our schedule is hectic right now, but when we can all sit down to dinner as a family, the TV is off and I try to keep it off as long as I can. My husband has a harder time with it being off, so I have to force him to do something else when he has the itch to turn it on.

    We do watch TV at night, usually after 8, when our youngest has gone to bed. Aidan likes to run around in circles with the dog for about an hour (?? he's 2, what can I do?), which tires him out, and then he likes to curl up on the couch and read a book. I hadn't thought about turning the TV off during that time… Maybe we will move to his bedroom so as to not irritate my TV-loving husband any more!

  10. I think anything – including TV – in moderation is fine. People make WAY too big of a deal about tv and I think it is our job as a parent to make the decision that is best. But I refuse to try and meet someone else's idea of what they think is best because of some study. We live in a technology centered world. It's reality. But in moderation, I think it is fine and can be beneficial. I use it as a learning tool where I can explain animals, sounds etc just like I do when we read together. I don't think it is something to stress over. I would rather my daughter have it on once in awhile and know that is something that can be fun and interesting but it is not a sole source of entertainment. We play outside, go to play dates, Kindermusik, the park, etc. She maybe watches an hour of TV a day broken up into smaller increments. And most of that is with me watching and explaining to her what Elmo is doing or whatever. I feel like it is teaching her important things and also teaching her it is not the be all, end all. If she never saw it, she would probably stare at it like she is in a trance. It would be hard to look away for a baby who nevers sees it.

    It is like the kid who grew up without being allowed to eat any sugar. Does it teach him that sugary treats isn't the best choice? Or does he just overdo it once he is out of the control of his parents? TV can be seen the same way.

    Like I said, everything in moderation….

  11. I agree, everything in moderation! It's not an ALL Or NOTHING with anything.. well most things.

    I'm sure as soon as Lucas is older he'll be watching TV and movies! I'm not worried about a little bit.. just not now when he's a baby.

  12. monster jam is monster trucks (real life ones) racing around in stadiums crushing cars and stuff. logan and hubby have actually gone twice to see it in real life. it's on tv too.

    total testosterone.

  13. When I met my husband, his 5yo son (Tommy) had a TV in his room. He would put a movie in every night and it would play and rewind until it was turned off in the morning. Tommy had problems sleeping, and my husband said he had his sleeping problems. Once school started, and sleep deprivation began to really take a toll on Tommy, I convinced both of them to get rid of the TV in the bedroom. (I had been against it from the beginning, but he wasn't my child.) I talked Tommy into trading his TV for an awesome Spiderman night light he had gotten from his grandfather for Christmas. I told him there wasn't enough room for both, so he had to pick one. (If he had picked the TV, I would have sabotaged it in some way.) He started sleeping through the night immediately, and his performance in school went up, too.

    Now that I have my own son, I limit the time the TV is on while he's around. At 25 weeks, he doesn't understand what's on the TV, of course, but the bright lights and colors definitely drawl his attention. I don't like it when he watches it. (He'll watch the computer screen, too.)

    Most of the time the TV is on is after both boys are in bed for the night. I allow morning cartoons on the weekends, but NO TV on school days except the rare half-hour to hour just before bed to help the older one relax before bed.

    I'm not a big fan of TV to begin with. I'd rather read or do something active, but once in a while, it's nice to just sit and watch.

  14. I love that you would post about this – what a great point to make! We recently switched our satallite back on, after a year or so of no t.v – and it's AWFUL! There's way to much t.v in my house for my liking, now my precious 2 year old is getting into “shows”. We're considering cutting it back off now (it was only put on for my husband & boys to watch the Superbowl!) My hubby is alittle reluctant, so I'll be showing him your post, thanks!
    pleased to meet you as well, I'm here from Meme Monday and am at if you feel like following back.

  15. The Becks,
    have you tried a carrier? I wore Lucas in the moby wrap around the house when he was that young cause like yours, he just wanted me ALL THE TIME!

    Then as he was older I put him in the Ergo on my back while I cooked/clean whatever around the house. It was the only way I could do anything.

    He also liked the vibrator bouncy chair, but not a fan of the swing.

  16. I am sooooo guilty of this. And it's been on my mind a lot lately, so your post really hit home. I don't “watch” TV, I just absorb it. Maybe it's because I work in a TV newsroom… but I am used to the hum of a TV being on 24/7. I notice I have it on a lot when G is around. DH & I actually had a debate over the weekend, and think we're going to institute a “no TV during daylight” policy when the time changes in March (other than Duke basketball– I can't live without that). I'm going to blog about it, and see how it goes!

    What did families do to spend time together BEFORE TV? You need to write a post on that… because I need ideas.

    Confessions From A Working Mom

  17. I have to say my son is 6 months old and I can count on one hand how many times I have had the TV one while he has been home with me during the day. I myself just don't watch it. I don't even *think* to put it on. Now when my husband is home, is another story.

    Let's just say it's a battle that I am trying to figure out how to fight. Thanks for bringing this article to my attention.

    ~Ida Mae

  18. great post! I've noticed marked differences in the girls play now that the TV is off most of the day. They do watch movies but only at certain times during the day. the rest of the time, it is off completely. It helped to cut out mommy tv time too! hard, but I don't even miss it now!

  19. We don't have a TV at all, and we hope to keep it that way. My husband and I can watch a show here or there on Hulu after our son is asleep. We don't mind being a week behind the cable people on “our” shows! Our library also has the best DVD selection. It's better than any Blockbuster… and free! We'll watch an occasional DVD on the computer.

    My son is almost 2. When we visited a friend for a few days, he was absolutely fascinated by the TV. I'm glad that's a battle I don't have to fight at home (or, at least, not yet!)

  20. I do let my kids watch some TV. My firstborn didn't even watch any TV until after he was 2. My second obviously watched more TV, since her big brother was watching it. I don't watch any daytime TV, so the second my kids walk away from the TV, I turn it off. The background noise actually irritates me. They keep busy playing, so they don't end up watching a lot of TV.

  21. My 17 month old watches Yo Gabba Gabba, Dora and Wonder Pets. She has no interest in other shows, but knows these shows and gets very excited for them. She dances with Yo Gabba Gabba, has learned words with Dora (“backpack” and “map”), and is learning animals with the Wonder Pets.

    I think it all depends on WHAT they are watching.

  22. There have been numerous studies done to show the negative effects of TV on children, especially babies! I'm sure you probably posted on the whole Baby Einsteins refund.

    Our children watch a Veggie Tales or careful selection 1x/month.

    Back when I just had Haley I had it on more often. Now my dh and I watch a couple of shows/wk after the kids are asleep.

  23. my son definitely watches too much TV. I'm a WAHM and I would get absolutely nothing done and would not be able to talk on the phone if not for PBS Sprout channel, my lifesaver.

    My son loves Caillou (which entrances him… don't know what it is about it) and enjoys the music of The Wiggles. When I watch it with him, I always sing and dance with him & he loves it!

    the TV time will probably get cut a lot when we send him to preschool in a few months but for now it's all I've got!

Leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s