The children were randomly assigned to either play with no background TV for the first half hour or to play with an adult game show on TV while they were playing with toys. Then, for the second half hour, the children switched roles.
"Children's play episodes were shorter -- about half as long -- if the TV was on, compared to when it wasn't, [and] children were more likely to move from toy to toy during the time TV was on," Anderson said.
He said these differences weren't obvious if you were in the room with the children, but if you slowly reviewed the videotape, the differences became much more apparent. "The kids look normal. They don't look distressed or distracted," he said.
Dr. Daniel Bronfin, a pediatrician with the Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, called background TV the "equivalent of secondhand smoke."
"All of the concerns we have with children watching programming for children still apply to secondhand viewing. It distracts from the work of childhood, from play," he said.
Bronfin said this type of constant distraction may be a contributing factor to the rise in behavioral disorders, such as attention-deficit disorder.
Both Anderson and Bronfin recommend that parents leave background TV off when a child is in the room. Anderson said that certain children's shows have value and children can learn from them, but that's different from background TV.
For more on kids and TV, visit the Nemours Foundation's KidsHealth.
SOURCES: Daniel Anderson, Ph.D., professor, psychology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Daniel Bronfin, M.D., pediatrician, Ochsner Health System, New Orleans; July/August 2008 Child De
All rights reserved