Baby Videos: what’s the big deal?
By now you have seen all the press reports about the new study concluding that watching Baby DVDs/Videos may hinder, not help infants’ language developments (for children 8 to 16 months old). Of course this news makes for an attention grabbing headline. I got my hands on the study published in the Journal of Pediatrics to look a bit deeper behind the press release.
Babies and toddlers under 2 years old watch lots of TV despite the Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of no screen time for kids under 2. Almost 40% of babies start watching by 3 months of age and 90% by 24 months. The median age to starting watching TV is 9 months. Does this surprise you? Nope, me neither.
Putting my baby in front of the TV to watch Baby Einstein was a practical everyday affair for me starting at the three-month mark. It allowed me a well-needed 20 minutes to pump breastmilk or wash some baby bottles. I had a hard time nursing at the font. And truthfully, if I couldn’t have pumped breastmilk successfully (and that definition includes my infant’s compliance to sit still) I would have given up at 6 weeks rather than continued until 12 months. It was a realistic use of TV/DVD/video as an electronic babysitter.
I never believed that these videos were educational. (Though, the study showed brain development and educational as the top reasons given by parents for allowing babies to watch TV). I’m an adult; I know that Baby Einstein doesn’t make your baby smarter and likewise, Baby Einstein never claimed it did. I can read the box. I was just happy that it kept my son entertained. All I could think was I’m the Einstein for having discovered it. It was the ultimate parent hack in my book.
Also, my son only watched for twenty minutes at a time. Yes, I did press replay sometimes, but the vast majority of the time, the baby video was on for what has been seared into my mind as some of the most precious 20 minutes, allowing me to use the bathroom without my 8 month-old ankle-biter following me in. To this day, my now 4-year old and I stick out our tongues and shout blah whenever we play with the dragon puppet from Baby Van Gogh.
But, there are some heavy dosers out there given that 17% of children 8- to 16- months watch 1 hour or more per day of baby videos. Interestingly, the study showed that increased viewing of baby videos is associated with slower vocabulary in a linear way. Vocabulary growth was used because it’s a good measure of cognitive development in this age range as it is easily observed and is a major developmental task of the age.
A couple of issues naturally jump to mind: the researchers admit that they didn’t rule out that the parents that allow their kids a heavy dose of baby videos may also be less motivated to interact, talk or read to their kids, all of which promotes language development.
Also, why is it that watching baby videos does not affect the language development of 16- to 24-month olds? Well, the researchers admit that the association may disappear by the time the children become toddlers. As such, the impact of baby videos may be transient.
Okay new parents, you have freaked out for nothing.
Well, this looks like yet another news headline designed to freak out new moms who are already prone to anxiety and depression. When I was a new mom it was Toxins in Breastmilk! But on further thought I guess studies like these are somewhat like the safety tags put on pillow cases and mattresses. They’re a public service! You parents are just not smart enough so we need to begin the process of regulating your parenting, too.
In fairness to the researchers, they do state the analysis presented here is not a direct test of the developmental impact of viewing baby videos but go on to recommend further wide-scale research to enable them to make firmer statements… based on scientific information. Too bad the media didn’t read that line.
Well, I have confidence that parents are smart enough to read past the news headlines (co-sleeping is bad! bottle-feeding is bad!) and will make decisions that are best for them and their families. I think that we parents can and should help our children make appropriate media choices and should be proactive in contacting companies to tell them what we want and don’t want to see on TV. As head of Alpha Mom, I read every piece of viewer and reader mail.
I am also in the process of joining a newly-formed Board of Parents (volunteer position) for a leading baby TV/video company where, along with other parents, I will be actively involved in making recommendations on media content, product development, marketing and website initiatives. I am beyond giddy about this opportunity as I believe I can have an impact on the future of children’s media. It’s not going anywhere. We should embrace this reality and make it better.
As such, I would love to hear your thoughts on baby/ toddler videos. Anything and everything is welcome. Bring it on.
* UPDATE: Disney demands a retraction from the University of Washington (where these researchers are based) for misleading press release. Disney called the press release “deliberately misleading, irresponsible and derogatory” because it “blatantly misrepresented what the study was about, distorted the actual findings and conclusions, and ignored the study’s own explicit acknowledgment of its limitations and shortcomings.”