Did Too Much TV Cause My Daughter's Speech Delay?

Like a lot of moms, when I find out that my kids aren’t meeting certain milestones my first reaction is to wonder if I’m somehow to blame. It’s irrational, maybe, but Mommy Guilt isn’t something I can easily shake.

I know this was true when faced with the reality that my toddler had a speech delay. At two, she was lagging behind her peers in language development. Her doctor and speech therapist assured me that the range of communication skills is wide for children her age, but it was difficult for me to accept that it wasn’t at least partially my fault.

A study released Monday in the journal Pediatrics is giving me even more reason to wonder.

The study, which was based on phone interviews with approximately 1,500 parents in the U.S., revealed that young children spend an average of 232 minutes daily exposed to television, time which experts say may be interfering with their development. The study is significant because it looked not only at tv viewing time, but exposure time, when kids might not be watching but hearing it in the background.

“Limited television equals more language.”

I’ve always been concerned with the amount of tv time my children were getting, and worked hard to limit it significantly when they were very young. Sure— I used Elmo as a distraction for them while I completed a quick chore around the house, and I saw no harm in an occasional cartoon. But if I were being totally honest, the amount of tv exposure time my kids had when they were under two was significant.

As a stay at home mom, I often had the television on for background noise, even when the kids and I weren’t in the same room. Could that have gotten in the way of my daughter’s speech? It stands to reason: a study in the June 2009 issue of Pediatrics made it clear that because tv reduces verbal interaction between kids and parents, speech development can be hindered. While this is probably true to a lesser extent when the television is just on in the background, it’s something to consider, especially if your child is delayed.

According to Lacy Morise, early intervention speech-language pathologist and co-author of 1-2-3 Just Play With Me, “I often warn parents of the dangers of too much television and how it may interfere with language development.  I recommend following the AAP guidelines which state no screen time for children under 2 years of age and two hours or less per day total screen time (tv, computer, game systems) for children over 2.”

Thankfully my daughter’s speech is back on track. I know that her delay was most likely caused by a combination of factors, but if I’d known then what I know now, I would have relied a lot less on the television in my home. It’s just not worth it. And as Morise said, “Limited television equals more language.  Parents, talk to your babies, they’re listening!

More by Mary Lauren:

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Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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