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The Impact of Television on Language Development

By Dr. Brenda Gorman, CCC-SLP, Lingua Health Advisory Clinical Director and Marquette University Assistant Professor, College of Health Sciences Speech Pathology and Audiology

Dr. Brenda Gorman, CCC-SLP

Dr. Brenda Gorman, CCC-SLP

There is a lot of talk about the impact of television on children’s development.  Speech-language pathologists are also often interested in this topic. Last semester some of my student clinicians conducted a systematic review of the research to evaluate the effects of video programs designed for young children on toddlers’ language development.

Based on their review, the students concluded that watching such videos did not significantly boost young children’s language development, as some might suggest. Specifically, the research indicated that watching videos either did not impact young children’s language development or appeared to have an inhibitory effect, particularly in children with lower language skills.

On children’s behavior, however, a recent study by Dr. Dimitri Christakis and colleagues published in Pediatrics has revealed some positive effects of television. You might find this surprising, given that children often imitate what they see and given the amount of violence that occurs in many shows. The researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial to examine the effects of what they called a “media diet” intervention on children’s social competence and behavior.

The researchers did not aim to reduce television time. Instead, their media diet involved replacing regular television programming, which often displays aggression and violence, with educational and pro-social programming. Examples of such educational and pro-social shows included Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street, Curious George, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and Sid the Science Kid.

The intervention began with an initial home visit during which a case manager collected assessment data, talked with parents about their child’s media use, provided handouts about the intervention, and helped set goals with the parents. For twelve months, case managers followed up through mailings and telephone calls to help families choose educational and pro-social shows and problem-solve. The control group who did not change their media use received a nutrition intervention designed to promote healthy eating habits.

Results from the study indicated small but significant benefits of the media diet on children’s overall social and emotion competence. Interestingly, they also reported somewhat greater benefits to boys from low-income households.

It would be of interest to know if children with language impairment benefit to the same extent as children with typically developing language, or if they require additional teaching. Still, this study may promote a stimulating discussion with some of the families we serve.

Dimitri A. Christakis, D.A., Garrison, M.M., Herrenkohl, T., Haggerty, K., Rivara, F.P., Zhou, C., & Liekweg, K. (2013). Modifying media content for preschool children: A randomized controlled trial.  Pediatrics, 131, 431–438.

DeLoache, J., Chiong, C., Sherman, K., Islam, N., Troseth, G., Strouse, G., et al. (2010). Do babies learn from baby media? Psychological Science, 21(11), 1570-4.

Krcmar, M., Grela, B., Lynn, K. (2007). Can toddlers learn vocabulary from television? An experimental approach. Media Psychology, 10(1), 41-63.

Richert, R., Robb, M., Fender, J. & Wartella, E. (2010) Word learning from baby videos. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Development, 164, 432-437.

Zimmerman, F., Christakis, D., & Meltzoff, A. (2007). Associations between media viewing and language development in children under age 2 years. The Journal of Pediatrics, 151(4), 364-368.


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