BELLE Project Media Research

There is an increased amount of media exposure in young children.  Parents report that 90% of their 2 year olds watch television, DVDs or videos (Zimmerman, Christakis, & Meltzoff, 2007). By age 3, approximately 1/3 of children have a television in their bedroom (Rideout & Hammel, 2006). This exposure conflicts with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of no exposure prior to age 2 years as recently reinforced in the AAP policy statement November 2011.  Parents chose media marketed as “educational;” however, more research is needed to see whether industry claims are valid. Studies have demonstrated that less learning occurs from television than from equivalent life experiences.  In addition, studies have documented harmful impacts for media that is both in the foreground and background. Foreground media exposure has been adversely associated with attention, language and cognition. Background media exposure has been adversely associated with reduced parent-child interactions and play. Low income children are at greater risk of these adverse impacts. More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of media on young children. 

Our lab has been utilizing data about media exposure collected in the context of the Bellevue Project for Early Language, Literacy, and Education Success to seek answers to these questions regarding the impacts of media on young children.  To date, research efforts in this area (led by Dr. Suzy Tomopoulos and Dr. Alan Mendelsohn) have yielded a number of interesting findings, including:

  • Greater media exposure at 21 and 33 months was found to be associated with aggressive, oppositional and externalizing symptoms at 33 months. This was particularly the case for exposure to media content intended for young children that was not-educational, or intended for older children or adults (Tomopoulos, Dreyer, Valdez, Flynn, Foley, Berkule, Mendelsohn, 2007).
  • For a sample of preschool-aged children, it was found that 75% of children watched more than 2 hours per day of TV. It was also found that those children who were exposed to more than 2 hours per day of media were read to almost 2 fewer days less per week than their peers who were exposed less to media (Tomopoulos, Dreyer, Valdez, Flynn, Foley, Berkule, Mendelsohn, 2007).
  • Greater daily duration of media exposure at child age 6 months was found to be associated with lower cognitive abilities at 14 months. Greater infant exposure to media targeting older children and adults was particularly detrimental for the development of cognition. A similar pattern of results was true for the impact of 6 month media exposure on 14 month language development (Tomopoulos, Dreyer, Berkule, Fierman, Brockmeyer, Mendelsohn, 2010).
  • Analyses of parent talk during child media exposure indicated that: 
    1. There is limited verbal interactions during television exposure in infancy, with interactions reported for less than one-quarter of exposures; 
    2. Programs intended for young children with educational content had the greatest amount of interactions, however still less than ½ the programming; 
    3. Although interactions were most commonly reported among programs with educational content that had been co-viewed, programs with educational content were not more likely to be co-viewed than were other programs (Mendelsohn, Berkule, Tomopoulos, Tamis-LeMonda, Huberman, Alvir, Dreyer, 2008).
  • Verbal interactions between mothers and their 6-month-old infants during media exposure mitigated potential adverse impacts of media on toddler language development.  Adverse impacts of media on 14 month language development were only found in the absence of such parent-child verbal interactions (Mendelsohn, Brockmeyer, Dreyer, Fierman, Berkule, Tomopoulos, S. (2010).
  • Participation in VIP, a pediatric primary care parenting intervention, was found to be associated with reduced total duration of media exposure for families in which mothers had achieved at least a 9th grade literacy level (~7th grade education)- a result in part of enhanced parent-child verbal interactions and cognitive stimulation (Mendelsohn, Dreyer, Brockmeyer, Berkule, Huberman, & Tomopoulos, 2011b).
  • An assessment of factors associated with infant/child viewing of foreground media indicated that: (1) Infants and toddlers are more likely to watch programs as they get older, particularly young child-directed programs that are turned on for them; at the same time (2) Significant watching also takes place with media not intended for young children (Tomopoulos, Dreyer, Berkule, Fierman, Brockmeyer, Mendelsohn, 2010).

In the News

TV Watching is Bad for Babies Brains

Media Exposure May Hinder Infants Cognitive Development
Useful Links and References

Rideout V, & Hammel E. (2006). The Media Family, Kaiser Family Foundation, Menlo Park, CA

Zimmerman FJ, Christakis DA, Meltzoff AN. Associations between Media Viewing and Language Development in Children Under Age 2 Years. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2007; 151 (4): 364–368.