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'Smart Baby' DVDs No Help, May Harm

Babies Who Watch 'Brain-Boosting' Videos Know Fewer Words, Not More

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."

Videos with simple story lines that elicit language -- such as Dora the Explorer urging kids to say "Backpack!" -- seem to encourage word-learning skills in under-2 children. But Linebarger warns parents against expecting too much from such programs.

"Parents need to be really careful and not get sucked in by labels that say this is going to make your baby smarter or a genius," she says. "I have a 1-year-old, and would have no qualms about showing her particular kinds of video content. The shows with changing stimuli or animals I would not show. Try to show your babies some kind of media with a simple story embedded in familiar routines the baby would experience in everyday life."

WebMD offered two makers of smart-baby video products an opportunity to comment. The Brainy Baby company did not make a spokesperson available. Susan McLain, general manager of The Baby Einstein company, responded by email.

"All Baby Einstein DVD/videos are designed as interactive tools and catalysts to promote interaction between parents and their young children, which is one of the most critical elements to the development of a healthy and happy baby during the first three years of life," McLain tells WebMD. "The entire Baby Einstein collection is specifically designed to promote discovery and inspire new ways for parents and babies to interact - such as clapping, pointing to objects, and verbally interacting with their baby - in real time and in age and developmentally appropriate ways."

Zimmerman and colleagues report their findings in the current issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.


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