'Smart Baby' DVDs No Help, May Harm
Babies Who Watch 'Brain-Boosting' Videos Know Fewer Words, Not More
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
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
Meltzoff says the research team was surprised to find out that the main
reason parents let kids aged 0 to 2 years watch TV is to promote brain
Many companies that sell "smart-baby" video products claim or imply
that the products will make children smarter -- and that parents who don't buy
the products will miss a crucial window of opportunity to do the right
There's no scientific evidence behind these claims, says David S. Bickham,
PhD, of Harvard's Center on Media and Child Health.
"It is really important for parents to realize there isn't any research
showing a positive effect of smart-baby videos. Their kids aren't missing out
on anything by not doing this," Bickham tells WebMD. "That is the
opposite of what the company advertisements say. We do know the activities that
lead to important levels of brain development among young kids. TV doesn't
necessarily provide that."