You've heard of the hazards of secondhand smoke. Now here's another worry: secondhand TV.
A growing number of researchers are warning about the dangers of watching TV when very young children are nearby. Recent findings suggest that even casual exposure to TV can harm their development and undermine parent-child interactions.
The most recent warning came last week when the American Academy of Pediatrics for the first time included warnings about "secondhand television" in its guidelines for kids under age 2.
In addition to discouraging screen time for young kids, it warned against watching TV with them nearby, saying the practice hurts their language development. It pointed to several studies, including one from 2008 that found background TV reduced the length of time they played and caused their focus on play to stray. Recent surveys find that about one of three families leave the TV on most of the time.
The warning said TV keeps young kids and their parents from interacting - a key way children develop the working vocabulary they'll need in school.
"If you're trying to connect with your kids, you've got to turn the screens off," says Ari Brown, an Austin pediatrician and lead author on the recommendations. She worries that when the focus is on TV, "there's less talk time." Brown discourages families from keeping the TV on when no one is watching and suggests they wait until very young kids are in bed before they watch their favorite show.
"Parents are distracted by TV the same way preschoolers are," says Lisa Guernsey, author of the 2007 book Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children From Birth to Age Five. She says young children learn much more from face-to-face interaction than a screen. "They see someone who's able to do that as a true learning partner," she says. "They don't have any way of knowing whether that character or face on screen really understands them."