Yet another study shows that background television noise may harm a child’s learning and development, as electronic screens continue to proliferate in the home.

Specifically, the background noise from television distracts children from play and other learning activities, squandering attention better used on cognitive development, according to Deborah Linebarger, an associate education professor who led the research at the University of Iowa. “Kids are going to learn from whatever you put in front of them,” she said in a press statement. “So what kinds of messages, what kinds of things do you want them to learn? That would be the kinds of media you’d purposefully expose them to.”

Linebarger and her colleagues analyzed a national survey of more than 1,150 families with children ages 2 to 8, weighing such factors as family demographics, diverse parenting styles, and consumption of media. As expected, the researchers found an association between television noise and brain functioning, an effect most pronounced among children living in poverty or born to parents with lower education.

Yet the deleterious effect of television background noise on children’s cognitive development held across socioeconomic demographics, as parents from poorer environs sometimes compensated with greater attention. Despite other disadvantages, some parents successfully shielded their children from the harms of television background noise. “Children whose parents create a home environment that is loving and nurturing and where rules and expectations are the same from one time to another are better able to control their behavior, display more empathy, and do better academically,” Linebarger said.

Yet unlike other experts on childhood development, the researchers stopped short of recommending that parents “kill your television.” Educational television designed for children’s cognitive development led to positive effects, suggesting that parents need only to supervise children’s television time, with greater discretion in making choices.

“Sit down to watch a particular show and when it’s done, turn it off,” Linebarger advises parents.

Still, the National Academy of Pediatrics remains critical of most television, dismissing educational content for children younger than two — which may seem like trying to hold back the tide.

And according to Common Sense Media, most young children subsist on a media diet heavy on television, with educational content thrown into a Kardashian medley of reality and soaps, sports, and — for some families — 24/7 news channels. Of educational content consumed by children, 61 percent catch programming from television, particularly those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Another 38 percent just as frequently consume educational content via mobile platforms, including cellphones and iPads, with 34 percent using computers.

Below, Linebarger discusses the study in a YouTube video.

Source: Linebarger DL, Barr R, Lapierre MA, Piotrowski JT. Associations Between Parenting, Media Use, Cumulative Risk, and Children's Executive Functioning. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. 2014.