Kids under age three average an hour and a half of video per day....
Experts say parents, not videos, best hope for brainy baby
Sunday, August 20, 2006 7:39 PM PDT
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - â€˜â€˜Baby Einstein,'' â€˜â€˜Brainy Baby'' and other videos that promise to jump-start children's learning have become a billion-dollar industry in this country, but parents are still their babies' best learning tools, experts say.
Eager parents spent $200 million on Baby Einstein last year - the largest part of the $1 billion they spent on â€˜â€˜screen media'' for their kids, industry reports show.
The occasional viewing of subjects like Vincent Van Goat - the â€˜â€˜Baby Einstein'' character that introduces children to colors - may be harmless enough, child experts say.
But watching videos is not the kind of interactive learning babies need to develop their brains. And new studies suggest that too much TV- and video-watching may interfere with learning to write and learning in general, and may lead to attention problems later on.
Real learning begins, they say, with the kind of loving, nurturing physical and emotional support a baby can't get from a TV screen.
â€˜â€˜I just think parents are a little too wound up,'' said Wendy Gamble, a University of Arizona child-development expert. â€˜â€˜Parents can do pretty ordinary things and still create magic.''
Like taking baby outside to discover bugs and flowers.
Kim Metz, director of The Parent Connection, which offers a variety of parent-and-baby learning programs, wholeheartedly agrees.
â€˜â€˜We all want to give our kids the best we can,'' Metz said. â€˜â€˜What they really need is us.''
Babies are born ready to start learning the fundamental things that will accompany them throughout their lives - even though the brain is the only organ not fully developed at birth. It is still in the early stages of â€˜â€˜wiring'' neurons and synapses - nerve cells and the connections that form between them, which enable the brain to process information.
Over the last 10 years, researchers have been able to use state-of-the-art medical imaging to observe the development of neurons and synapses. Children who come from nurturing homes where all their needs are met show rapid development.
But the brains of babies who have lived in neglectful or abusive situations show markedly less growth.
Such obstacles to early brain development can be overcome later on, said Jill Stamm, an Arizona State University educational psychologist and president of the New Directions Institute for Infant Brain Development in Phoenix.
But playing catch-up can cost thousands of dollars in remedial services, Stamm said.
â€˜â€˜Those of us who know how little money there is for those services say, 'Why don't we just prevent those problems as much as we can by exposing children to the kinds of activities that can help them learn?''' she said.
Those activities can be as simple and affordable as holding a baby and reading to him. Any book will do, Stamm said, offering a tip: Parents can nurture their babies' brains even further by reading from Dr. Seuss.
â€˜â€˜It looks like Dr. Seuss had it right from the beginning,'' Stamm said. â€˜â€˜Rhyming exercises the part of the brain that wires up to hear differences. And it's really cheap to do.''
Playing music can be just as inexpensive and educational, said Sharon DeLong, a teacher with The Parent Connection's First Steps program.
â€˜â€˜It's the variety and complexity of sounds, the rhythm and the flow that helps a baby's brain organize,'' she said.
Finger painting with chocolate pudding or mashed green peas gives babies a chance to explore and be messy - things they love - while boosting brain development.
â€˜â€˜It's great on several levels,'' said Dr. Sydney Rice, a UA pediatrician who specializes in infant and toddler development and is the mother of two toddlers. â€˜â€˜They're using their imagination and they're using their hands. They're exploring textures. There are tracks in our brains that go from our visual pathways to our hands. Coordinating those kinds of motor skills takes practice.''
Baby videos work best when parents and babies watch them together, Rice and others say.
â€˜â€˜If you're watching Baby Van Gogh, you can point to the sky and say: 'See the blue sky. What else do you see that's blue? Look, your shoes are blue,' â€˜â€˜ said Connie Espinoza of Child and Family Resources.
But that's not how many parents are using videos. Rice points to a recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation that shows TV and videos are used as baby-sitting tools - not just for a few minutes while Mom takes a shower, but through the day.
The study found that 61 percent of children 1 year old or younger average an hour and 20 minutes a day in front of the TV. And nearly 20 percent of those babies have TVs in their bedrooms.
â€˜â€˜I tell parents that if their child is less than 3, no TV is better,'' Rice said. â€˜â€˜At this age, kids should be a problem. They should be into everything. They pull all your pots and pans out of the cupboards, but that's what they're supposed to do. That's how they explore their environments.''
By the time the child is 3, Rice said, TV is OK - but less than an hour a day.
The key, experts say, is to interact with your baby. Gamble talks about â€˜â€˜contingent parenting'' - watching your baby and responding to her cues.
â€˜â€˜Sometimes allow your baby to take control,'' she said. â€˜â€˜It gives them a sense of efficacy - that they can make a difference in their world. If they smile at you, smile back. If they babble, talk back. They feel they are successful, and that translates into taking on more challenges later on.''
Experts know parents are confused, especially those who are parents for the first time.
The Parent Connection's First Steps program is one that teaches parents how to help their babies learn.
â€˜â€˜They have taught me what kind of interaction I can do with him, how I can play with him,'' said Celta Meades, mother of 5-month-old Conner.
â€˜â€˜I've learned that I can take two blocks and encourage his motor development by handing him one block and then the other one,'' she said.
First Steps also has given Meades the comfort of knowing she is not the only anxious new mom in the world.
â€˜â€˜You can learn how to try something different. It may work or not. That's OK,'' she said.
Raising kids with no- or low-TV.
2 posts • Page 1 of 1
Another great article! It seems that the evidence for raising kids on no TV mounts daily. The American Society of Pediatrics also recommends no TV before the age of 3. Not that they are the definitive source, but information from multiple sources that points to one single conclusion (no TV) tells me that we're on to something here. I have a 9 month old girl and we never let her watch TV. Unfortunately though when she goes over to the grandparent's house the TV is on. And I'm always amazed at the glazed-over, deer-in-headlights look she gets whenever she watches the TV at their house. My parents aren't as "informed" as we are when it comes to child development and TV. They usually have the TV on from the minute they get home from work to the minute they go to bed. I'm afraid my wife and I are going to have to speak up about this sooner or later. It will be interesting to see what happens when I tell my mom "No TV when she comes over to play". Then we'll see where the true loyalty lies.