A new study published this week in the Journal of Pediatrics found that videos such as “Baby Einstein” and “Baby Brainy” may actually slow down vocabulary acquisition in infants eight to 16 months of age. Researchers from the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute found that for every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants understood an average of six to eight fewer words than infants who did not watch them. Baby DVDs and videos had no positive or negative effect on the vocabularies on toddlers 17 to 24 months of age.
“The most important fact to come from this study is there is no clear evidence of a benefit coming from baby DVDs and videos and there is some suggestion of harm,” said Frederick Zimmerman, lead author of the study and a UW associate professor of health services. “The bottom line is the more a child watches baby DVDs and videos the bigger the effect. The amount of viewing does matter.”
This can’t be good for the estimated $1 billion baby brain-enhancing video industry. But then again, did anyone really believe their kid would become smarter from watching a video? Entertained? Sure. Occupied? Why not. We all need a break. But smarter? Actually more intelligent?
I’m sorry if you did think this. But how blatant can marketing get? I know! I’ll call my new potato chips, “Thigh Thinners” and people who want to lose weight will assume their bodies will shrink if they eat them! I’ll make a million bucks! That’s essentially what happened. According to the Baby Einstein web site:
The Baby Einstein Company was started in 1997 by a mom when she discovered that there were no age-appropriate products available to help her share her love of art, classical music, language and poetry with her newborn daughter. To fill this void, she created the very first Baby Einstein video title — Baby Einstein Language Nursery. The company’s name was inspired by Albert Einstein — someone who truly embodied a love of the arts, simple curiosity, and a passion for discovery.
Coincidentally, Einstein also had the biggest brain in the history of the world, but you shouldn’t read anything into that. In 2001, just four years after that mom created the first video in her home, the company was bought by the Walt Disney Company.
That same year, the American Academy of Pediatrics published recommendations on media use in children. The group had this to say about television for infants and toddlers:
The first 2 years of life are especially important in the growth and development of your child’s brain. During this time, children need good, positive interaction with other children and adults. Too much television can negatively affect early brain development. This is especially true at younger ages, when learning to talk and play with others is so important.
Until more research is done about the effects of TV on very young children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend television for children age 2 or younger.
Last spring the same folks who conducted the current study showed that by 3 months of age 40 percent of infants are regular viewers of television, DVDs or videos, and by the age of 2 this number jumps to 90 percent. They also showed that only 6 percent of parents knew about the AAP recommendation against TV watching in babies and toddlers.
This week’s study lets us know not only are lots of very young kids watching television, but the videos most heavily marketed to them could be causing harm.
“The results surprised us, but they make sense,” says Andrew Meltzoff, Co-Director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at UW. “There are only a fixed number of hours that young babies are awake and alert. If the ‘alert time’ is spent in front of DVDs and TV instead of with people speaking in ‘parentese’ — that melodic speech we use with little ones — the babies are not getting the same linguistic experience.
Parents and caretakers are the baby’s first and best teachers. They instinctively adjust their speech, eye gaze and social signals to support language acquisition. Watching attention-getting DVDs and TV may not be an even swap for warm social human interaction at this very young age. Old kids may be different, but the youngest babies seem to learn language best from people.”
The Baby Einstein-type videos in particular may be inhibiting language development because they are non-verbal. According to the UW press release, the researchers believe the content of baby DVDs and videos is different from the other types of programming because it tends to have little dialogue, short scenes, disconnected pictures and shows linguistically indescribable images such as a lava lamp.
In May of 2006, the advocacy group Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood filed a complaint against Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby with the Federal Trade Commission for false and deceptive advertising. Perhaps now with some data to back them up, that complaint will have more teeth.