You may have heard the recent controversy about “Baby Einstein” videos. Originally touted as educational products for babies, in 2006 the Disney Company stopped marketing the videos as educational. This was due to studies coming out showing that infants and toddlers exposed to daily doses of television has a propensity to develop attention disorders by age 7. Attention disorders include ADHD and ADD, which affects a child’s ability to focus, their attention span, leading them to have learning and behavior disorders.
Of concern is children’s perception of events they see on television. When they see violence, do they see that as a normal part of life? Studies have found that violent content, whether a child is directly viewing or just in the room while someone is watching the program had a huge impact on children acting out in an aggressive manner. Although television is a passive past time it is still being absorbed actively in the brains of children.
Let’s take the example of the Three Stooges. Each episode centers around physical comedy in the form of slapping, kicking, chasing and punching. While it is considered slapstick and we find it hilarious, a child’s perception is that this is the way adults behave. We can tell our child that this is not the way people really behave but then we turn on the news and they see violence happen all over again. Children may not be paying attention to the content of the news but they may be paying attention to the violent pictures.
Of recent concern are some movie theaters that are now offering special movie showings for parents with small children. They can enjoy the movie without anyone being upset that their child is babbling or crying. What a perfect concept that a mom can go out with her friends to a movie and not have to hire a babysitter. But the majority of movies are littered with sexual content, violence and vulgarity. Children are absorbing something during that time and the question then becomes “what do you want your child to see, to experience and to learn”?
Just a few weeks ago the world watched as the “balloon boy” story unfolded. Fortunately it was a hoax and the child was ok. However, child welfare did get involved because of the concern of what were they teaching their child. This little boy was being taught to lie, to deceive, he was allowed to swear and he was only 6 years old! But the parents allowed it in the hopes of fame and fortune. All at the cost of a little one’s formative years.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies not watch televised programs before age 2 and restrict television and video game time to just 1-2 hours per day for children over 2. Television is a huge part of most people’s lives. Most families have a very difficult time limiting the amount of programming that is on in the household. But it is important to be alert of what content is on because a baby’s brain is a huge sponge. It absorbs everything. The problem with watching short bursts of images on the television screen is that the synapses in the brain are trying to tie this information together. Televised images are in constant movement preventing baby from being able to stare at the image and take it in fully. This can cause confusion in the way the brain organizes information. This rapid change in images inhibits baby’s ability to develop an attention span and causes the processes of the brain to be in hyper drive which is why children have a hard time focusing, paying attention, sitting still and being able to control themselves.
Babies need interaction to learn. They need to touch things and they need to be talked to. Babies are visual beings. They need to see how your mouth form words and see your expression in order for their brains to put these two things together. For example, praising them with a smile on your face helps baby to understand that this is something positive. On the other hand, firmly saying “no” with a frown will teach them that whatever they were doing evoked a negative response.
Want your baby to be as smart as they can be? The best learning tool for that is face time. Make sure you face your baby when talking. Interact with them. Get down on the floor and play. Do repetitive games such as “peek-a-boo”, counting out loud while displaying the count on your fingers. Sing songs and give your baby lots of opportunity to explore new things. When feeding baby, make sure you hold them facing you. They examine your face, take in the comfort of rocking them, smile back at you and watch everything you do. Babies imitate everything you do. They say imitation is the best form of flattery. In the case of babies, that’s true! If they imitate you, then they’ve learned!
Of course they learn both the good and the bad from example so be careful what you’re teaching!
Getting back to Baby Einstein….Disney is now offering a refund to parents of up to $15.99 for dvds (limit of 4) that were purchased between June 5, 2004 and September 5, 2009 in response to a threatened class action lawsuit for unfair and deceptive practices due to their marketing strategy of the dvds being educational and beneficial to a baby’s development.
You can find more information on ADD and ADHD at the following websites:
American Academy of Pediatrics at: www.aap.org
National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/adhd/adhd.htm
National Institute of Mental Health at:
photo courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/25088012@N04/2367332244/