Increased television watching is associated with poorer development in your younger ones. However, according to a new study, talking to your kids while watching TV is a new way to counter its negative effects.
The findings of the study were published in the 'PLOS ONE Journal' The more parents engaged in conversation with preschoolers during shared TV time, the more likely those children were to have higher curiosity levels when they reached kindergarten, the new study suggested. This was particularly true for children with socioeconomic disadvantages.
"Our findings reinforce the importance of parent conversation to promote early childhood development and curiosity, especially for children from under-resourced families," said lead author Prachi Shah, M.D. M.S., a developmental and behavioural paediatrician at University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.
"We know that more frequent parent-child conversation promotes several areas of early child development, and this could be true for promoting a child's curiosity as well," Shah added.
Sitting in front of the TV alone or while parents are on their phones? Perhaps not so beneficial.
But watching a show, movie, or other content with parents while talking together could be associated with fostering a preschoolers' curiosity, Shah said.
Researchers assessed hours of daily television exposure and frequency of parent screen-time conversation among 1,500 preschoolers and then measured early childhood curiosity in kindergarten.
The study specifically focused on curiosity levels, which Shah's previous research has found is associated with enhanced learning and higher academic achievement in reading and math at kindergarten, and behavioural-developmental benefits, especially for children from families with lower socioeconomic status.
"Curiosity is an important foundation for scientific innovation, joy in learning and numerous positive outcomes in childhood. We want to better understand what fosters curiosity in early childhood, which could potentially identify ways to help mitigate the achievement gap associated with poverty," Shah said.
"Parent-child conversation facilitates children's thinking, learning and exploration -- all behavioural indicators of curiosity," she added.
Researchers analyzed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort. The cohort is a nationally representative, population-based study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education that has followed thousands of children since birth in 2001.
Curiosity was measured through parent questionnaires asking about characteristics of curiosity, such as eagerness to learn new things, a drive for novelty, openness to new experiences, imagination, and adaptability to new situations among other behaviours.
While many young children are now growing up with digital media exposure through mobile devices like tablets and phones, televisions remain a dominant screen activity, accounting for 72 percent of all screen time. TVs are in 98 per cent of all homes, keeping television exposure a relevant developmental context in young children," Shah said.
Children are reportedly exposed to an average of one to four hours of television per day, with higher exposure in children who are economically disadvantaged.
Excessive media exposure, including television, can displace exploratory activities such as play and parent-child interactions, which are believed to be key to cultivating curiosity in kids, Shah said.
"Our findings suggest the importance of parents finding opportunities to foster conversational exchanges in daily routines with their young children -- including while watching television," Shah added.