Is It Goodbye To Baby Einstein?
By Sarah Klein
A recent study found that television viewing before the age of two does not improve a child’s language and visual motor skills, as some products and marketing claims would have us believe.
The study, from the Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School among others, followed 872 infants from six months to three years, measuring TV viewing habits and testing cognitive development. No relationship was found between the amount of television watched and the child’s progress in language or visual motor skills at age three.
Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV time for children under 2 years of age, a whopping 68 percent of infants spend some time with a screen each day. Initially it seemed that with increased TV time, cognitive testing scores were lower. But after controlling for other factors, such as mother’s age, education, household income, and marital status, the relationship disappeared. Researchers believe that some of these other factors are more likely to cause lower cognitive development than TV viewing.
But the study also found that while TV viewing won’t benefit infants, it also won’t cause any harm. Essentially, the amount of TV an infant is exposed to won't make a difference, positive or negative. However, the study was only measuring the amount of time infants were in front of the TV, not the content of the programs that were playing. Issues concerning content may be one way that other studies have linked infant TV viewing to greater risks of obesity, attention problems, and poorer sleep quality.
Marketing and advertising will continue to push videos and DVDs that supposedly accelerate infants’ cognitive development, like the popular Baby Einstein series*. Since the study found no harm was caused by screen time prior to age 3, you don’t necessarily need to avoid them, but don’t expect any miracle results. As one of the study’s authors, Michael Rich, MD, MPH, points out, "Parents need to understand that infants and toddlers do not learn or benefit in any way from viewing TV at an early age."
*Editor’s note: The Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School study has ignited an intense debate in parenting publications and blogs and has prompted a spirited response from The Baby Einsteen Company. See VP Susan McLain’s comments on the Baby Einstein web site.