Television blamed for switching babies off speech

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The Independent Online
One in five children are slow learning to speak because they are being drowned out by television, according to a leading speech therapist.

A study by Dr Sally Ward, considered one of Britain's foremost experts on language development in children, revealed that infants of eight months did not know their names, as would normally be expected at that age. They could not identify or respond to everyday words like "juice" or "bricks" because television had killed conversation in their homes.

The study of 1,000 babies identified families who had as many as two televisions on in the house at the one time with no one speaking to the baby. According to Dr Ward, children were only spoken to regularly by the television set.

"Parents would wander from room to room dipping into different programmes and as a result spent little time teaching their babies to speak," said Dr Ward, of the Speech Language and Hearing Centre in London.

"The first thing some parents do when they get up in the morning is switch on the television, and they don't switch it off until they go to bed at night."

When families were asked to switch off or turn down their televisions and speak to their infants again, 85 per cent of the babies caught up with their speech by the age of 13 months.

The babies who took part in the study came from inner-city Manchester. "Many were from what some describe as socially deprived backgrounds," Dr Ward said. "But there is now evidence that many middle-class children are following the pattern of late speaking because their parents are allowing television to dominate homes.

"Others use it as a babysitter, allowing the infants to sit in front of the screen for long periods of time.

"The television goes on when they get up in the morning and goes off when they go to bed at night. The consequences are far-reaching, because babies who are not spoken to will fall behind with their school work and their education will suffer."

Dr Ward urges parents to talk to their babies from birth to establish the basics of language. "Babies will benefit from day one from parents who talk to them."

Supporting Dr Ward's claim, Val Cullen, who has been a health visitor for eight years, revealed that some parents do not turn down the television when she is attempting to carry out hearing tests on their infants at home.

"Some have volunteered to turn off the washing machine instead," said Ms Cullen, of the Turret Medical Centre in Kirkintilloch, Dunbartonshire. "There are infants who sit through a daily diet of television programmes and videos. Babies are sat on little bouncers in front of screens."