Growth spurt seen in TV fare for babies
Michelle Koidin Jaffee
San Antonio Express-News
A new channel, BabyFirstTV, is courting
San Antonio cable companies and if the wooing is
successful, parents will have one more option for
infants whose video and television choices seem to be
Besides the new 24-hour channel aimed specifically at
babies, there's that Brainy Baby video you got as a
baby shower gift. Baby Einstein DVDs sit on shelves at
San Antonio libraries.
Now, BabyFirstTV, currently distributed on the Dish
Network and DirecTV, wants to move in, according to
co-founder Sharon Rechter, who said she hopes to have
the channel available through local cable networks by
the end of summer.
Time Warner spokeswoman Melissa Sorola confirmed
discussions are ongoing; no date for a launching has
Whether BabyFirstTV penetrates here, what is clear is
that babies are being put in front of the tube more
than ever, child-development experts say.
The average age at which children now start to watch
TV is about 9 months, compared with 4 years in the
1960s, said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, an associate
professor at the University of Washington School of
"There are a lot of programs aggressively targeting
young babies," said Christakis, adding there is no
scientific evidence to support claims that TV programs
for babies under age 2 are educational.
Particularly excessive early exposure, in fact, could
be harmful, said Christakis, co-author of "The
Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV in
the first two years.
Nevertheless, the 10-year-old Baby Einstein Co., which
makes DVDs marketed for infants along with clothes,
books and toys, has exploded into a now-Disney-owned
business with sales of $200 million in 2005. This
year, President Bush honored Baby Einstein Co. founder
Julie Aigner-Clark during his State of the Union
Cindi Catlin, director of the University Presbyterian
Children's Center in Monte Vista, isn't convinced.
"There are very well-meaning grandparents that will
buy this for a grandchild," she said. "I've noticed
more and more that technology is taking over care of
our young ones. It worries me a lot."
Rechter pointed to a 2006 Kaiser Family Foundation
study showing that an estimated 43 percent of babies
under age 2 watch TV every day.
"The question should be, what are they watching?" she
said, describing BabyFirstTV as a safer option.
Dr. Edward McCabe agrees. The chairman of pediatrics
at the UCLA School of Medicine, McCabe is on the
advisory board for BabyFirstTV, a role for which UCLA
McCabe said that while he was skeptical when he first
heard of the channel, he did a "180-degree turnaround"
when he saw the content. Programs are slow-paced,
commercial-free and include subtitles to encourage
parents to interact with the baby and talk about
what's on the screen.
While BabyFirstTV's Web site says the subtitles make
"the experience as educational and engaging as reading
a book," other child-development experts say there is
no proof to support that claim.
"The research indicates there is no learning of any
significance (from TV) that occurs under the age of
about 30 months," said Dr. Michael Rich, director of
the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's
Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School.
While some Baby Einstein DVDs carry a sticker that
says "Bonus Learning! Plays in Spanish, French and
English," a company spokeswoman said its products are
not developed to be "educational."
"Rather, Baby Einstein products are specifically
designed to provide parents with interactive tools
they can use with their little ones to help expose
them to the world around them in playful and enriching
ways — stimulating a baby's natural curiosity,"
Michelle Jacob, senior manager of Disney public
relations, said by e-mail after declining a phone
San Antonio mom Christa Harper's boys, ages 4 and 18
months, watch about three hours of TV a day.
When older son Connor was about 8 months old, Harper,
who works from home as a customer service agent for a
credit card company, started using Baby Einstein
"I would put him in his bouncy seat and turn it on,"
she said, "and he would just be enthralled."