By Katy Morton, 10 June 2009

Having the television on at home has a detrimental effect on young children's speech and language development, according to a new study. Researchers found that young children and their parents used fewer words and engaged in fewer conversations at home when the television was switched on.

A team from the Center for Child Health, Behaviour and Development at Seattle Children's Research Institute in the US studied 329 infants aged two months to four years, recording sounds children were exposed to at home and the sounds and utterances they made over a period of two years.

Researchers used the recordings to measure adult word counts, child vocalisations and child conversational turns - when a child speaks and an adult responds to them, or vice versa, within five seconds.

The study found that on average, for every additional hour the television was on, parents said between 500 and 1,000 fewer words to their children. This represents a 7 per cent decrease in the number of live words a child hears with every hour of television exposure.

Lead researcher Professor Dimitri Christakis said, 'Audible television clearly reduces speech for both infants and their caregivers within the home, and this is potentially harmful for babies' development. There is simply nothing better for early childhood language acquisition than the spoken and imitated words of caregivers. Television is not only a poor caregiver substitute, but it actually reduces the number of language sounds and words babies hear, vocalise and therefore learn.'

The study, 'Audible Television and Decreased Adult Words, Infant Vocalisations and Conversational Turns', is published in the June issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

It follows on from Professor Christakis' previous research on the effect of infant DVDs on children's language

By Katy Morton, Nursery World, 10 June 2009