For many years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that children under 2 years of age not be exposed to TV. Now, The Washington Post reports that Sesame Street is going against doctor's orders and releasing a DVD intended for infants as young as six months.
Sesame Workshops, creators of Sesame Street, teamed up with Washington, DC-based nonprofit Zero to Three to produce a new DVD series, Sesame Beginnings, which targets babies and toddlers from 6 months to 2 years old. The DVD series features famous muppet characters like Elmo and Big Bird dancing and singing with their Muppet friends and families in scenes that are designed "to model parent-child interaction."
The AAP is not dancing or singing about the new development. They insist that the first two years of a baby's life are crucial to brain development, and that interaction with parents and other infants will allow them to learn and grow. Watching TV may inhibit their ability to learn how to speak, and it could impair motor skill development.
Susan Linn, a Harvard Medical School psychologist and founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, calls the new DVD a "betrayal of babies and families. There is no evidence that media is beneficial for babies, and they are starting to find evidence that it may be harmful."
The brouhaha is made more interesting because for almost 40 years, Sesame Street has been a staunch advocate of child development and learning. Some suggest the move is purely economical, and that Sesame Workshops is just trying to get its share of the explosion of dollars being spent on baby-centric products. Sesame Workshiops and Zero To Three insist their DVD is a quality addition to a child's life.
"We took a long time and did a lot of research and preparation. We wanted to make sure we did this right," said Rosemarie Truglio, vice president of education and research for Sesame Workshop.
Baby experts aren't buying it. Dimitri Christakis, director of the Child Health Institute at the University of Washington in Seattle, has done research that indicates early exposure to TV may slow cognitive development and erode infant attention span.
"Kids that age are only awake 12 hours a day, so we have a generation of children who are watching television 10-20 percent of their waking lives," says Christakis.