Is background TV harmless?

children and background TV

Background TV seems so harmless. After all, no one is watching it, is it even a screen? 

While background TV may seem harmless, it’s actually one of the most studied areas of tech and little brains, and too much background TV is linked to slower language development and lower levels of focus. Background TV changes the ambiance of the house, so everyone is only partially listening to each other. It changes how we interact with our little ones and how engrossed they can get in their play...which is their life’s work!

So, if one is watching that TV, we suggest turning it off! That way, your little one can hear you and continue their life’s work (PLAY!)  

Does a silent house terrify you? That's okay. You are NOT ALONE. You need to take care of yourself, so you can take care of your little one. If you can’t bring yourself to turn the TV off completely, try one of the following: 

  1. Reduce it. Try to cut your background TV time in half this week. See if you can still feel good throughout the day with half the noise. You may just find you like it.
  2. Swap background TV for music. If you aren’t really watching the TV but just want noise in the house, put on some gentle music. Music is amazing as it doubles as an activity for your little one--your living room becomes an immediate dance party or sing-along. If the dance party isn’t the main activity, play gentle music in the background, preferably some without lyrics. While background TV can negatively impact language and brain development, soft music does the opposite. It’s known to POSITIVELY impact little ones, so make the switch!

What about my adult shows? If they are on as background TV, you aren’t really watching them anyway, which is a bummer for you. Instead, record your shows to watch during nap or bedtime. Those shows are for YOU, and we want you to watch them without distraction!

All this to say, TVs should be on when we watch them! The rest of the time, declutter your space with some calm, some music, some dance parties, and some fun. 


(McMillan & Saffran, 2016)


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