Television watching and language development: a link?

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A number of research studies have convincingly demostrated a relationship between the amount of language a child is exposed to before the age of 3 and their subsequent language and cognitive development (see resources 1,2,3). Most parents are aware of the benefits of language exposure and therefore try to spend a good amount of time reading books, telling stories, and talking about daily events with their children.

We also know, however, that the medium used for language exposure varies both within and between families - some families include television, radio and computers, whereas others exclude these in favor of real-world interactions. The question is, which is best for a child's language development?

Recent research (see resource 3) conducted by Dr. Frederick Zimmerman at UCLA and his colleagues has examined which form of language-based communication is most important for a child's language development: the one-sided language exposure a child receives while watching television or listening to the radio, or the two-sided exposure a child might get while having a discussion with his or her parents.

After following 71 families with children aged 2-48 months, the researchers examined whether parents' language complexity, television viewing, and child-parent conversations best-predicted the children's ultimate success on the preschool language scale (PLS). Parents' language complexity positively predicted children's language success, and child television viewing negatively predicted language success. However, both of these variables were not very important when you considered whether parents had two-way conversations with their children.

What that means is that it does not matter how complex your language is as a parent, or how much television the child watches, as long as you have rich interactive discussions with them. Of course, the more time your child spends watching television the less time you (as a parent) are able to hold personal conversations with him or her. The point is, interactive language experience with your child, involving both child and parent speaking to one another in a conversational style, can be a great way to jump-start your child's language development.

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