The creators of "Sesame Street" recently joined a growing group of manufacturers by releasing a line of DVDs designed for children ages 6 months to 2 years—to the outrage of doctors and child development experts who recommend children of that age should watch no television.
"We know based on sound scientific evidence that children learn based on interaction in the first two years of life, primarily with their parents or caregivers," says Dr. Benard Dreyer, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and vice chairman of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine. "Watching TV takes away from time that parents could spend actually interacting with their child or engaging in creative play."
Sesame Workshop representatives insist the shows, called "Sesame Beginnings," are not traditional baby videos.
"No content on those videos is designed solely for the child watching it. These videos are meant to be used in an interactive way, teaching parents to turn everyday moments into teachable moments," says Rosemarie Truglio, vice president of education and research.
Developed with advocacy group Zero to Three, the DVDs were designed as straight-to-video products, featuring characters such as Baby Elmo going through daily routines with their caregivers.
Zero to Three, according to the group’s Web site, supports the healthy growth and development of infants and their parents.
"We’re concerned that the combination of Sesame Workshop’s reputation and Zero to Three’s reputation will encourage more parents who normally would not let their kids watch TV to buy these DVDs, thinking they would be beneficial," says Susan Linn, Harvard psychologist and co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
Sesame Workshop created the DVDs based on a 2003 survey conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that 43 percent of children under 2 watch TV every day. Plus, only 6 percent of parents know about the academy’s recommendation that children under age 2 watch no TV.
"Nowadays there’s no way to keep your children completely away from screen media, so let’s give them content that would be beneficial," says Truglio, who insists that the pediatricians’ recommendation is "too extreme."
The company may be calling their product beneficial, but with a lack of research to back up those claims, experts say they shouldn’t be quite so hasty.
"We are very sympathetic to how stressed parents are today, and if they feel that the only way they can cope is by setting their children in front of the TV, we understand," says Linn. "We just don’t think corporations or the public health community should be telling them that it’s beneficial for the child, because based on what we know so far, it’s not."
Farah Mohd Alkaf