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Breaking Free From Baby TV


July 2006
By Josh Golin

When Karen Adelmann's daughter Lily was born, Lily's grandfather bought the entire catalog of Baby Einstein DVDs. The DVDs cost a considerable sum of money, but he believed they would be important, if not essential, to Lily's development. Karen was happy to receive the videos. She had heard that the Baby Einstein series was designed to enhance learning and the idea of giving her baby a head start was understandably appealing.

When Lily was six months old, Karen sat down with her to watch one of the DVDs and was immediately discomfited by what she saw. Lily sat and stared as if she was in a trance. Thinking that perhaps Lily was just too young for the videos, she waited a few months and tried again. Once again, Karen reports, her daughter "turned into a zombie. She wasn't clapping or cooing or interacting." Disturbed, Karen did some online research. It was only then that she found out that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under two.

Karen and her father were not alone in the belief that the Baby Einstein videos would benefit her babies' development. A 2003 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 49 percent of parents think educational videos are "very important" in the intellectual development of children. By contrast, only 6% of parents are aware of the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation.

Media companies cultivate and exploit the erroneous belief that screen media is good for babies. The packaging for Baby Einstein's Baby Wordsworth proclaims that the video is a "rich and interactive learning experience that introduces your little one to the concepts of verbal and written communication and sign language" and "fosters the development of your toddler's speech and language skills." Brainy Baby claims its Peak-a-boo DVD is "brain stimulating" and "helps nurture such important skills as object permanence, communication skills, cause and effect, language development and many others." BabyFirstTV, the first television station for babies, alleges that its programs will "inspire creativity," develop language skills, and "engage children in identifying patterns of thinking and developing creative ways of viewing the world."

For overworked parents, the electronic babysitter can seem like the perfect solution—a chance to help their baby's development and catch their breath at the same time. But while the producers of baby videos may be telling parents what they want to hear, they aren't telling them the truth. There is no evidence that screen media is educational for children under two or that any of these videos benefit babies in any way. And the false and deceptive marketing of these videos may actually be putting infants and toddlers at risk.

While there haven't been many studies about babies and screen media, the research that does exist is cause for concern. Research suggests that—for babies—TV viewing interferes with cognitive development and regular sleep patterns. Hours of screen time are also negatively correlated with the time children under two spend interacting with parents and in creative play, which are the foundations of learning.

TV viewing can also have long range implications. It is primarily through screen media that companies target young children with marketing for junk food, junk toys, and the underlying message that they need brands in order to be happy. Watching screen media can also be habit forming and—for older children—hours of screen time are linked to childhood obesity, poor school performance and bullying.

Media companies should not be allowed to lure babies to screens under false pretenses. That's why the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby for false and deceptive advertising. Given what's at stake—the wellbeing of our youngest and most vulnerable children—the producers of baby videos must be held accountable for any claims they make about the developmental and educational benefits of their products.

If you share CCFC's concerns about the deceptive marketing of baby videos, we hope you'll share them with others. You can start by telling the FTC that parents deserve honest information when it comes to media and their children.You can also encourage friends and relatives not to purchase baby videos as shower gifts or birthday presents. And you can help educate new and expecting parents by letting them know that videos are not necessary or even beneficial for a baby's development; that screen media may be harmful to young children; and that the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommends no screen time for children under two.

After Lily's disturbing encounters with Baby Einstein, Karen Adelmann decided she wasn't ready to surrender her daughter to the billion dollar baby media industry. She put the videos away and never showed them—or any screen media—to her again. Lily is twenty-months-old now, an engaging creative toddler who is learning and growing every day. Television will have to wait; Lily is too busy playing and exploring the world around her.


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