This study investigated the hypothesis that background television affects interactions between parents and very young children. Fifty-one 12-, 24-, and 36-month-old children, each accompanied by 1 parent, were observed for 1 hr of free play in a laboratory space resembling a family room. For half of the hour, an adult-directed television program played in the background on a monaural television set. During the other half hour, the television was not on. Both the quantity and quality of parent–child interaction decreased in the presence of background television. These findings suggest one way in which early, chronic exposure to television may have a negative impact on development.