Will watching TV help my child learn vocabulary or do better at reading?

Most studies of the effects of television viewing by young children show negative effects, but it is hard to single out effects on only vocabulary or reading readiness.

Child sitting in front of a large screen tv.

  • Kids two to five years old spend 32 hours a week—almost five hours a day—watching TV, DVD’s, DVR’s, videos, game consoles, tablets, and smart phones. Most of that time is spent watching live TV programs.
  • Toddlers 29 months old who spend two hours daily watching TV risk lower vocabulary and math skills, and by the time they go to kindergarten, have lower attention spans and are physically weaker.
  • Many homes (as many as 51%) report a TV on in the background most of the time. In such situations, children watch more TV and read less often than other kids. They are less likely to be able to read. One, two, and three-year-olds have shorter attention spans. Parents and children interact less frequently than in homes without constant TV. (the University of Michigan)
  • When the TV is on, adults speak 75 fewer words per hour compared to when the TV is off. Children speak 25 to 50% less when the TV is on. (the Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute)

What can you take away from this research?

  • The more time children watch TV, the less time they devote to reading, academic work, physical play and social interaction—all important for a healthy, well-rounded childhood.
  • The more time the TV is on, the less time adults talk to children, and the less time the children talk—all detrimental to healthy, developing children and especially to vocabulary building which is so important for learning to read.

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