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'Smart Baby' DVDs No Help, May Harm

Babies Who Watch 'Brain-Boosting' Videos Know Fewer Words, Not More
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 7, 2007 -- "Smart baby" videos don't help kids before age 2 years -- and may actually slow word learning, a University of Washington study suggests.

Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD, of the child health institute at the University of Washington School of Public Health, and colleagues held long telephone interviews with more than 1,000 parents about their children's TV viewing habits. All the children were younger than 2 years of age.

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents not to let kids this young watch any TV at all. But the researchers found that 90% of kids regularly watch TV, DVDs, or videos by age 2. Does it really hurt?

To test the kids' language development, Zimmerman and colleagues asked the parents how many words on a 90-word list their children knew.

"We found no association with language acquisition and TV watching -- even adult programming seemed to have no effect," Zimmerman tells WebMD. "But there was one quite large effect -- from baby videos like the Baby Einstein and Baby Genius products. These kids were 17% slower in language development than the kids who didn't watch such videos."

If you're one of the millions of parents who has bought one of these products, don't panic. Zimmerman is quick to add that this single study does not prove the DVDs cause harm.

"I don't think this study definitively proves any harm," he says. "If parents are comfortable with their babies' video watching, fine. Just keep it to a minimum. Do not assume it will help make them smarter, but do not assume it will hurt, either."

Andrew N. Meltzoff, PhD, co-director of the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, worked on the study with Zimmerman. He, too, urges parents not to panic.

"If you have exposed your child to an enormous amount of video, do not despair: There is no science showing lasting harm," Meltzoff tells WebMD. "Children are enormously resilient. Your kid is probably doing just fine. But what the science is showing is that if you are in the group that thinks you must establish a training regimen by having your child spend an hour or two a day watching these DVDs, put that aside -- and also put aside the DVDs."

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