Baby DVDs, videos may hinder infants’ language development: Study

MUMBAI: Despite marketing claims, parents who want to give their infants a boost in learning language probably should limit the amount of time they expose their children to DVDs and videos such as Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby.

Rather than helping babies, the over-use of such productions actually may slow down infants eight to 16 months of age when it comes to acquiring vocabulary, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute in the US.

The scientists found that for every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants understood an average of six to eight fewer words than infants who did not watch them. Baby DVDs and videos had no positive or negative effect on the vocabularies on toddlers 17 to 24 months of age. The study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Lead author of the study Frederick Zimmerman says, "The most important fact to come from this study is there is no clear evidence of a benefit coming from baby DVDs and videos and there is some suggestion of harm. The bottom line is the more a child watches baby DVDs and videos the bigger the effect. The amount of viewing does matter."

The paper is part of a larger project looking at the trajectory of media viewing in the first two years of life and examining the content of what is being watched and its effects on young children. A paper published last spring by the same researchers showed that by three months of age 40 per cent of infants are regular viewers of television, DVDs or videos and by the age of two this number jumps to 90 per cent.

For both papers, the researchers conducted random telephone interviews with more than 1,000 families in Minnesota and Washington with a child born in the previous two years. Television, DVD and video viewing were divided into four categories: baby DVDs and videos; educational TV programmes, DVDs and videos such as Sesame Street, Arthur and Blue’s Clues; children’s non-educational television shows and movies such as Sponge Bob Square Pants, Bob the Builder and Toy Story and adult television such as The Simpsons, Oprah and sports programming.

The researchers found no positive or negative effects on infants of either age group from viewing educational and non-educational media or adult television programs, reveal the findings.

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 such as 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.

Zimmerman adds, "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. 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.

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