Episode 8: Children and TV

Parents need to know what their kids are watching on television and steer them toward the “good stuff.” Learn how to determine what the good stuff is — listen to this month’s Science of Parenting podcast.

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Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Infants learn more vocabulary words from parental interactions than from watching commercial DVD’s

A recent study revealed that babies learn vocabulary words better from interactions with their parents than from watching commercial DVDs which claim to enhance infants’ vocabularies. Researchers tested infants’ (12-18 months old) acquisition of new vocabulary words by comparing infants’ experiences with a commercial DVD designed and promoted for building vocabulary in infants.

To test the infants’ learning of vocabulary words, researchers constructed four learning environments. One learning environment included infants who watched a commercial DVD (designed and promoted to enhance infants’ vocabularies) with their parents at least 5 times per week for 4 weeks, for at least 10 or more hours of viewing time. Parents were asked to engage with their infants in a manner similar to what they would normally do when watching an educational video with their infant. The second learning environment consisted of infants who watched the video for the same amounts of time as the prior condition, but the infants did not engage in any parental interactions. The third learning environment was comprised of parents who were asked to interact with their infants by teaching them a list of 25 words that were shown in the video; infants in this scenario did not watch any videos. Finally, infants in the last condition were considered the “control” group—their parents did not receive any instructions and the infants and parents conducted their normal every day activities.

Interestingly, only the infants who did not watch any videos and only had their parents teaching them new vocabulary words (third learning environment) showed statistically significant increases in their vocabularies. Infants had the highest level of learning when their parents made a concerted effort to teach their children the same words during everyday activities without the aid of any videos. These findings are also consistent with prior research.

In conclusion, the researchers hypothesize that some parents may be overestimating the usefulness of videos to teach infants vocabulary words; in fact, it appears more likely that increases in infants’ vocabularies are the result of normal child development…not the videos infants are watching. Thus, parents who wish to boost their infant’s vocabulary should interact with their infant and concentrate on teaching them vocabulary words through their everyday interactions, as opposed to having their child watch DVD’s.

Donna Donald

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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