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Background TV Noise Reduces Parent-Child Interaction

Photo by Keith BacongcoBackground TV negatively affects adult-children interactions

Background TV negatively affects adult-children interactions

There were times in my childhood after my parents’ divorce that the television seemed to always be on to fill the empty space. It’s not that uncommon in many homes for the TV to be on when no one is actually watching it. This background TV noise has previously been shown to interrupt play and negatively affect children’s attention and focus, but a new study has found it also reduces “both the quantity and the quality of interactions between parents and children”.

Published in Child Development, “The Impact of Background Television on Parent-Child Interaction” reports:

More than a third of American infants and toddlers live in homes where the television is on most or all the time, even if no one’s watching. A new study looks for the first time at the effect of background TV on interactions between parents and young children – and finds that the effect is negative…Given that high-quality parent-child interaction plays an important role in children’s development, the study challenges the common assumption that background TV doesn’t affect very young children if they don’t look at the screen.

Specifically, researchers found “parents spent about 20 percent less time talking to their children and the quality of the interactions declined” when background TV was present in the environment.  My own personal theory is the background TV creates too much chaos, so parents are unable to tolerate the additional demand of their attention from their own children.  I have a hard time thinking when the TV is on, whether I am watching it or not.

Much of the research and concern regarding children’s exposure to television has to do with the quality of programming designed for children and the amount of time they spend watching it. This study is unique in its efforts to discover the impact of adult programming that produces “distracting background stimulation for very young children and become engaging stimuli for the parents that interfere with social interactions.”

The results were “clear”. Even background television is not good for children.

The evidence is growing that very early exposure to television is associated with negative developmental outcomes…This study confirmed the hypothesis that background television interferes with parent–child interactions, disrupting social input and parent engagement as the parent’s attention is occupied by the television. Both findings may in part explain the negative associations found between early exposure to television and subsequent development…We need to pay greater attention to children’s early, chronic exposure to TV.

Background TV is probably not good for adults, as well. It isn’t rocket science to notice how distracting a television is in a waiting room or restaurant. It’s time to turn the tube off unless one is actively watching a program.  I suspect background music does not have the same effect.


  1. I have noticed this in our house the tv is just on for noise a lot and no one is watching it. We are trying to make sure that the tv is off if no one is watching and it we just want noise then we turn music on. I never realized how much the tv was on before I had a baby.

  2. The TV as background noise thing bugs me, mainly because background noise makes it hard for me to think straight. Also, I don’t have the willpower to not watch. LOL

  3. We never watch TV, but are finding that having the computer on all day can be a problem, as well…Mommy and Daddy are constantly thinking of something they “have” to look up, or want to read, which makes attention-thirsty DS none the happier.

    Always a discipline to keep modern contraptions from spending quality time as a family…

  4. @Emily Yes, the computer is a constant distraction in my home as well.


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