'Smart Baby' DVDs No Help, May Harm
Babies Who Watch 'Brain-Boosting' Videos Know Fewer Words, Not More
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 development.
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 thing.
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."
The Other Side Responds
Rachel F. Barr, PhD, director of the early learning project at Georgetown University in Washington, serves on the advisory board of Sesame Beginnings Workshop, which produces video products for kids aged 0 to 3 years.
"We are still at the early stages in finding out what is going on with these videos," Barr tells WebMD. "What I typically advise to parents, if they do show infants television, they should co-view with them and talk with them. If babies are watching on their own, they are not going to acquire vocabulary at the same rate. This doesn't mean the parent has to be there every second. The parent can walk in and out of the room and see a cat on the screen and say, 'Oh, look, there is a cat just like our cat.'"
Some kinds of television do delay language development in very young children, says Deborah L. Linebarger, PhD, assistant professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. But she says others seem to help.
"We are starting to get an idea of what are the essential components of media for kids under age 2," Linebarger tells WebMD. "Magazine-format shows, like Sesame Street, tend to reduce expressive language and vocabulary skills in children under the age of 2 years. Over age 2 years, there is a huge body of literature that this is positive for children, but it is really not appropriate for kids under age 2."