Parents who have bought into the concept of "educational" videos for their toddlers in the belief they are enhancing their development could, in fact, have been stifling it.
A new study has found that the effects of popular videos aimed at making babies smarter could be doing more harm than good. In fact, they may even delay language development in toddlers.
Led by Frederick Zimmerman and Dr Dimitri Christakis, both at the University of Washington, the research team found that 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 eight to 16 months old, the age at which language skills are starting to form.
Research published last year showed that, by the age of three months, 40% of babies are regular television viewers, rising to 90% by the age of two years.
The researched find that parents and caretakers are a baby's first and best teachers. They instinctively adjust their speech, eye gaze and social signals to support language acquisition. Attention-getting DVDs and TV are not a substitute for social human interaction at this age.
Interviews for the research took about 45 minutes to complete and included a standard inventory for measuring infant language development was used. Parents of the 8 to 16 month olds were asked how many of a list of about 90 words their child understood. Typical words on this list included choo choo, mommy and nose. Parents of the 17 to 24 month olds were asked how many words on a similar list they had heard their child use. Typical words from this list were truck, cookie and balloon.
Parents also were asked about how often they read books or told stories to their children. Daily reading and storytelling were associated with slight increases in language skills.
The researchers believe the content of baby DVDs and videos is different from the other types of programming because it tends to have little dialogue, short scenes, disconnected pictures and shows linguistically indescribable images – like a lava lamp. By contrast, children's educational programs, which make up the largest viewing category at this age, are, crafted and tested to meet developmental needs of preschool children.
"We don't know for sure that baby DVDs and videos are harmful, but the best policy is safety first. Parents should limit their exposure as much as possible," says Zimmerman. "Over the course of childhood, children spend more time watching TV than they do in school. So parents need to spend as much time monitoring TV and other media viewing as they do in monitoring their children's school activities."
The researchers believe more research is required, particularly to examine the long-term effects of baby DVDs and videos on children's cognitive development.