Thanks to the work of P.E.A.C.E. members Diane Levin and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, P.E.A.C.E. has been the most active early childhood professional organization working to persuade parents and child care providers to minimize young children’s exposure to television, videos, and other electronic entertainment media. P.E.A.C.E. became a sponsor of Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment (www.truceteachers.org) and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (www.commercialfreechilhood.org) as soon as these organizations began. Diane’s book, Remote Control Childhood: Combating the Hazards of Media Culture (NAEYC, 1998) raised consciousness among early childhood professionals and parents about the developmental difficulties associated with young children’s use of electronic media. In 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics followed with a research-based recommendation that “Pediatricians should . . . discourage television viewing for children younger than 2 years, and encourage more interactive activities that will promote proper brain development, such as talking, playing, singing, and reading together.”
A 2006 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “In a typical day, 61 % of children [under 2] watch TV, a video, or a DVD, for an average of one hour and nineteen minutes. . . . Around four in ten children under two can turn on the TV by themselves (38%) and change channels with the remote (40%). Almost one in five (1996) have a TV in their bedroom. . . . A third (33%) live in homes where the TV is on most or all of the time, whether anyone is watching or not.” Clearly TV and video entertainment of infants and toddlers is pervasive. Perhaps that’s why the creator of Baby Einstein sat next to Barbara Bush at the 2007 State of the Union Address.
In July 2006, NAEYC’s Young Children had a feature section on infants and toddlers. Right in the middle of that section, with nothing to identify it as an advertisement, was a full-page display ad for Babies First TV, a cable TV channel with 24-hours-a-day programs directed at the youngest children. P.E.A.C.E. was in the forefront of those who protested NAEYC’s acceptance and placement of the ad, and we have asked the NAEYC Board to develop a policy that it will not accept ads, exhibits, or sponsorships for products or services, or by companies, that harm children or impede their development. We believe that products that take parents and child care providers away from the important work of interacting with their young children should not be advertised by any organization purporting to help young children grow, especially when it goes against the recommendations of other major professional organizations. The NAEYC Board’s Public Policy Committee considered our recommendation at its March 2007 meeting, but did not come to a conclusion. We have asked the Board to decide, and hope to hear from them before the Conference in Chicago.
On August 7, 2007, researchers from the University of Washington reported that viewing baby videos actually reduces, not increases, babies’ progress developing vocabulary. For each hour a day of video-watching, the babies understood an average of between 6 and 8 fewer words than babies who don’t watch videos, with an overall average score of 17 percent fewer words than other babies. Video watching didn’t seem to affect the vocabulary development of toddlers over 16 months old. Of course the report prompted the CEO of Walt Disney, which owns Baby Einstein, to complain to the President of the researchers’ University, who refused to retract its press release. The founder of Baby Einstein then said that her videos weren’t meant to make infants smarter, only happier. (Then why call it “Baby Einstein” and why make educational claims on packaging and advertising?) The furor continues, but the point has been made: People are far better than electronic babysitters for infants’ development.
Post Script 2012: Soon thereafter, Disney offered to refund purchases of Baby Einstein videos for parents who felt misled by the advertising. Baby Einstein is much less a presence 4 years later. Even so, screen media games, toys and apps continue to be marketed intensely to parents for their children under 2. In June 2012 the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood was able, with help from a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, to shut down the company that produced and marketed extensively a series of baby videos called, ‘Your Baby Can Read!”. The struggle continues, and P.E.A.C.E. continues to need your help in working with our partner organizations to protect our youngest children from the exploitations of marketing and over-dependence on screen media.
Submitted by P.E.A.C.E. members John Surr and Diane Levin