Music versus television

KM posted, “I have read that having the television on as background noise can be distracting to a child and affect their attentiveness to tasks and play. Do you find this to be true concerning music? My two year old child is an active child with a short attention span. We listen to kid music most of the day, including while she plays. Often times, she’ll sing along to the song while playing. Is is better not to listen while playing, listen only to instrumental music, or does it make a difference?”

Leaving a TV on all day is asking for trouble. Kids who grow up watching more TV are more likely to have trouble reading, more likely to be obese, more likely to end up on medicine for attention deficit disorder, and less likely to successfully complete high school. TV, to put it bluntly, is a worthless time-suck. It exposes your child to misleading yet powerful messages that encourage junk eating and a twisted attitude about bodies and sex. The shows are bad, and the commercials are worse. If you’d like you child to watch TV, choose an age-appropriate, taped item without commercials. Watch it, then turn it off and talk about it.

Listening to music doesn’t have any of these negatives. It has not been associated with any of these bad outcomes. For a while there was enthusiasm for music listening to help toddlers or babies—the so called “Mozart” effect was said to increase brain power. The research showing this was weak, and it’s not fair to say that Mozart will help a child’s brain grow. But it is wonderful music. Whether you like classical, jazz, hip-hop, or rock-and-roll, any kind of music in the background is a nice accompaniment to the day.

Except yodeling. That’s just wrong.

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5 Comments on “Music versus television”

  1. bluefakes Says:

    Wow, i’m sharing this one with all of my friends!
    Thanks a Lot!



  2. Mark Engelberg Says:

    As I recall, it has been shown that background music with words tends to slow down one’s reading speed and interfere with comprehension. Instrumental music does not seem to have that effect.


  3. Dr. Roy Says:

    Mark, that could be; it makes sense. But I couldn’t find any studies specifically looking at that difference. I know I usually listen to classical music or jazz while writing.

    A few small studies have shown that music training improves IQ, spatial coordination, and attention. It’s not clear that just listening to music would have that effect.

    Most of the studies I did find looking at music and attention have been done in children with autism or other developmental problems. These studies were honestly not impressive one way or the other.


  4. KM Says:

    Is Mark’s question pertaining to listening to the worded music while reading?


  5. Dr. Roy Says:

    “Is Mark’s question pertaining to listening to the worded music while reading?”

    I think so. His statement sounds correct, but I was unable to find any study specifically looking at the difference between instrumental and worded music’s effect on reading speed or comprehension.

    Here’s some fresh info on the impact of television from the Wall Street Journal:

    In their recap of several studies, there were a few positive effects of television. Some research has some improved test scores among TV-watching children– though the effect is far greater among children from disadvantaged households, which makes me think that if good adult interaction is missing, TV is better than nothing. There are also interesting social observations. In third-world countries, people in communities that first get TVs quickly learn to become more isolated and distrustful of one another.


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