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.