For many a frazzled and tight-on-time parent, the small black box (or sleek silver 42 inch plasma) in the corner of the sitting room is a God-send, reliably there to switch on whenever tiny tots need to be amused or quieted for half-an-hour before teatime. Yet over time, the minutes pile up and too much reliance on reaching for the remote can have unfortunate effects on children – and their relationships with parents.
American researchers have discovered that television can be a distraction not just for kids but for adults too, whether it is being actively watched or is featuring mainly as background noise. In particular the presence of the turned-on television has a considerable negative impact upon the flow of interaction between parent and child, which in turn has stark consequences for the development of children’s speech. Amongst a study of over 300 children aged between two months and four years, parents were found to have spoken significantly less to their children while the television was on; every hour of TV exposure translating to a loss of 500-1,000 words. Children who watched increasing amounts of television also said less and had fewer conversations with their parents – having an alarming impact on the progress of speech and social skills.
Conversely, regular reading sessions at home have been proven to have quite the opposite effect on child development as well as parent-child communication. In a separate study at Ohio State University it was found that while more time spent watching TV links with a decreased amount of communication between mother and child, mothers who read together with their children converse more and do so in a particularly distinctive way. When reading aloud to their children, mothers were found to use an active and engaging communication style which encouraged responsiveness from children, thereby stimulating greater amounts of conversation. Parents who read aloud also help to expand their children’s vocabulary by introducing them to words that may not be typically heard by children in everyday speech. One of the researchers leading the study, Eric Rasmussen said:
“Mothers who are responsive to their infant’s communication promote a positive self-perception for the child as well as fostering trust in the parent. Positive responses help the child learn that they can affect their environment.”
Yet more evidence that shared reading really does make a difference in a number of ways – and the earlier it begins the better…! Although, you may want to start with physical, pliable books before involving the Kindle or iPad, given that personal contact is privileged over excessive technological stimulation in the early years…