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TV May Be Infantile, But It's Not for Infants

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Get that baby away from the boob tube. "Educational" videos for infants may be doing more harm than good, according a new review of 78 studies conducted over the past quarter-century.

"No studies to date have demonstrated benefits associated with early infant TV viewing," writes Dimitri Christakis of the Seattle Children's Research Institute at the University of Washington. "The preponderance of existing evidence suggests the potential for harm."

In his paper, published in the January issue of the journal Acta Paediatrica, Christakis notes that television viewing by infants —that is, children under 2 years of age — began increasing in the late 1990s, thanks to the release of Baby Einstein and similar DVDs aimed at the very young. He reports that $500 million worth of such products are sold in the U.S. each year.

These DVDs purportedly help babies develop their cognitive skills. But the paper notes that "a comprehensive review of infant video products found that the claims made by manufacturers are unsubstantiated by peer-reviewed or even industry studies."

Rather, some research suggests DVDs aimed at infants can actually cause language development to lag. A recent study from Thailand found that children under a year old who watched more than two hours of television per day were six times more likely than their peers to have delayed language skills.

Other studies have raised troubling questions over whether early television viewing reduces children's attention spans. A 2004 report found "a modest association" between TV viewing before age 3 and attention problems at age 7.

"In response to litigation, Baby Einstein has recently modified its claims and de-emphasized the educational components of its advertising," the report concludes. "Nevertheless, the names of the products themselves, and the testimonials that are circulating, serve to further convince parents that infant TV viewing has a positive impact. Parents themselves need to be better informed about what activities really do promote healthy development in their young children."