As far back as 1999, warnings issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics about the potential developmental damage to babies and toddlers who watch television before age 2 have gone largely unheeded. Yet, as a bonanza crop of baby DVDs and videos that promised to make babies smarter burst onto the market, parents spent millions of dollars.
That trend has changed somewhat, however, because parents and early childhood educators have examined and debated the findings of a University of Washington research project that appeared in the August 2007 Journal of Pediatrics.
Dr. Dmitri Christakis, MD, MPH, Dr. Frederick Zimmerman, PhD and Andrew Meltzoff, Ph.D surveyed over 1,000 parents in Washington and Minnesota to determine how children faired in using a set of 90 common baby words.
Early childhood researchers have long known that parents and other adult caretakers have the greatest impact on how a baby learns to speak, no matter what the language or culture. They know that language acquisition is directly tied to hearing the musical sounds and facial expressions of ‘motherese’ or ‘parentese’ in early childhood.
Since children imitate what they hear, it follows that the more parents and caregivers interact audio-visually with them, the more opportunity they will have to develop strong verbal skills.
According to the study, for every hour that babies 8-16 months of age watched baby DVDs and videos, they knew fewer words (6-8 on average) than babies who did not watch them.
“The results surprised us, but they make sense,” said Meltzoff, in a Reuters report. “If the (baby’s) ‘alert time’ is spent in front of DVDs and TV, instead of with people speaking in ‘parentese’- that melodic speech [sing-song, high-pitched extended-vowel type of voice] we use with little ones – the babies are not getting the same linguistic experience.” Dr. Dimitri Christakis added, “The evidence is mounting that (baby DVDs) are of no value and may in fact be harmful.”
What Parents Can Do
The more I work with people all over the world, helping them with their voices, the more I’m convinced that most people are passionate about doing what’s best for their children, so I consistently encourage them to spend more time in verbal interaction with their children and less time sitting inactively in front of a television. Put them in the room where you’re working and talk or sing to them about what you’re doing.
The sound of your voice will have an enormously positive effect on your child’s development.
As verbal skills become increasingly important in this competitive global age, think of what Dr. Meltzoff says: “Parents and caregivers are the baby’s first and best teachers. Watching attention-getting DVDs and TV may not be an even swap for warm social human interaction at this age…the youngest babies seem to learn language best from parents.”
This takes us to another topic.
Should You Change the Way You Sound?
In fact, this question is so important that I want to devote more time to it in future posts.
But, for now, know that the answer is YES!
How you do that is where the real heart of the matter is.
A good place to start is by understanding the importance of the quality of your voice for your baby’s language development.