Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Babies Part of Digital World Too




Even the youngest of the bunch are not immune to the effects of media and screens. In fact, babies are right in the midst of the digital world.

Here are a few points about babies and media, gleaned from a variety of reputable sources:
  • Children under two spend twice as much time watching TV and videos as they do reading books. (Common Sense Media)
  • On a typical day, 47% of babies and toddlers ages 0 to 1 watch TV and DVDs, and those that do, spend an average of nearly two hours doing so. (Common Sense Media)
  • Among children ages 6-23 months, 29% have a TV in their bedroom. (Common Sense Media)
  • Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age two. A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens. (American Academy of Pediatrics)
  • In a recent survey, 90 percent of parents said their children under age 2 watch some form of electronic media. (American Academy of Pediatrics)
  • For babies eight to 16 months, watching baby videos is associated with slower language development. (Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood). 
  • More than 80 percent of children under the age of two have a digital profile - some even before they are born - thanks to their parents. (Scholastic Parent and Child)
It appears that babies are becoming heavier users of screens every day. They have also been recognized as a target market for advertising campaigns. According to a fascinating, and sobering, Fact Sheet by Commercial-Free Childhood, "by six months, babies are forming mental images of corporate logos and mascots. According to market research, babies are requesting brands as soon as they can speak." I know that my kids learned to recognize Target and Starbucks logos at an impressively early age.

Parents of young infants is a hot target market, too. We've all heard of the Baby Einstein videos. The company received an enormous amount of heat for their claims that its videos educate babies. When my children were babies, Baby Einstein videos were a baby shower gift given with pride. And yes, I actually parked my baby in front of the tube for a short time each day. (See my first post entitled "Confession.") According to a New York Times article, one-third of babies ages six to 24 months old "owned" a Baby Einstein video in 2003. And yet most experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have stressed that no screen time is good for babies.

Out of interest, I looked at the Baby Einstein web site. Yes, the company (owned by Disney and at one-time, raking in $200 million annually) is still selling baby videos. But I noticed something else. The web site now markets "happiness" and "joy," not education. The primary products are not called DVDs, but "kits" that include a small book, a music CD and a DVD together. And additional products have been added to the inventory, including more books and toys. Nothing like a little corporate makeover. (For more information about the results of pressure against the company, see the New York Times article.)

It all boils down to the activities of parents and babies' loved ones. We're at fault "by training babies to depend on screens for entertainment and the things they sell for amusement and comfort. Before they can even ask for it, we decorate their cribs, clothing, toys and diapers with media characters and place them in front of screens at every opportunity." This is a statement from Susan Linn's book, The Case for Make Believe, and it is so well-said.

Let's pause to think before we set the baby in front of a screen or sign our baby up for an online service. We have a choice against throwing our hands up and exposing our infants to screen-time and commercialism. We should let babies be babies, having the only obligations of growing physically, developing cognitively and interacting with their loving families.

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