Not-so-brainy babies

Smart parents who want smart children talk to their babies. They don’t park them in front of the TV set with a Baby Einstein or Brainy Baby DVD. Watching baby DVDs and videos retards language development, concludes a study by Frederick Zimmerman and Dr. Dimitri Christakis of the University of Washington. Time reports:

. . . with every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos. These products had the strongest detrimental effect on babies 8 to 16 months old, the age at which language skills are starting to form. “The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew,” says Christakis.

. . . Last spring, Christakis and his colleagues found that by three months, 40% of babies are regular viewers of DVDs, videos or television; by the time they are two years old, almost 90% are spending two to three hours each day in front of a screen. Three studies have shown that watching television, even if it includes educational programming such as Sesame Street, delays language development.

Furthermore, watching the quick-cutting baby videos accustoms children to so much stimulation that they develop short attention spans, the researchers found. They’re bored by reality.

Babies thrive on one-on-one interaction with physically present adults.

Update: Jonathan Chait defends baby videos on The Plank as a necessity for exhausted parents who need a break from infant-child interaction.

My daughter didn’t watch TV as a baby or toddler, nor did she spend every waking minute interacting with me. She played with her toys. Don’t kids do that any more?

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  1. Research like this has been around for years. And a lot of this has to do with individual children — no two kids are the same, so a generalization about how watching television delays speech development in young children may not apply to every kid.

    That said, it scares me when kids under two years old watch a lot of TV. A few minutes here or there in the background isn’t much, but when a one-year-old knows characters by name but can’t yet move away from the TV on his or her own … that’s not good.

    Research such as this is important to consider when choosing media options for children. Certainly interactive shows, such as Blue’s Clues and Sesame Street have had thousands of research studies conducted on their educational effectiveness. However, with the growing number of programs (and even networks!) out there catering specifically to preschoolers and babies, a lot of content slips through the cracks.

    Thanks for pointing this out to your readers! It is always important to remind parents and caregivers to analyze what (and at what age) their children are watching.

  2. I don’t even understand HOW you get a child to sit and watch tv. Even if I tried to get my 14 mo. son to watch tv, it lasts all of 3 minutes before he’s bored of it, and back to pushing his trucks, balls or blocks around the room. What child sits still long enough to care about tv, even “interactive” tv? Now, of course my kid knows how to turn on the tv, but that’s all about buttons, not about actual viewing.

    I also don’t understand the need to use the tv when you’re too tired of child-parent interaction either. For the under 2 set, can’t you just put toys in the crib if you really need them to stay put? For the over 2 set, won’t they just play?