Are DVDs for littlest ones a bad idea?

Author: Arts and Letters

It’s hard to imagine Elmo — that effusive and furry “Sesame Street” resident — as capable of hurting a fly. But an 18-month-old? Some childhood development experts are saying, maybe, and the American Academy of Pediatrics already has said, probably. Creators of the popular television show for kids caught flak recently for their new line of DVDs, “Sesame Beginnings,” designed for children as young as 6 months.

According to its Web site, the videos are intended to facilitate parent/child interaction. A clip shows an infant Elmo as he toddles about; his dad, Louie, holds a camcorder and offers praise as the Muppet attempts a few steps toward him. The clip ends withLouie’s song: “Elmo, you did something new, and I’m so very proud of you, hooray, hooray, hooray.”

The site also quotes Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, vice president of education and research for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit group that helped to create the videos: “In the style of ‘Sesame Street,’ ‘Sesame Beginnings’ was created with this dual audience in mind; while there’s age appropriate content for the young child, the playful Muppet caregivers model fun songs and activities to be adapted by the adult viewers to create their own special moments with their children.”

But psychologists say their concerns go beyond the question of whether the videos will end up as a poorexcuse for a baby sitter.

“It’s actually a technology problem,” says Darcia Narvaez, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Ethical Education at the University of Notre Dame . “The blinking of the light (from the TV) is doing something to their brains, but we don’t know exactly what. … It’d be better to have Elmo in person. That’d be great. It’s the TV that’s the problem.”

Narvaez says the most disconcerting thing about videos for children younger than 2 is that there is a dearth of research on the effects TV watching has on this age group.

“I hate to put down ‘Sesame Street.’ They’re doing good things,” Narvaez says. “The problem here is that they’re encouraging an experiment on babies, essentially. … If they were just doing this for kids over age 2 -probably better, over age 5 - there wouldn’t be any complaining.”

Anita Crawford, day-care provider at World of Discovery Learning Center in South Bend, is in charge of activities for those 3 and younger. And while the center doesn’t have a TV, she sees a place for educational media for children, especially those whoaren’t in a preschool. “‘Sesame Street’ teaches them their colors, their shapes, their numbers.”

Rosie Griffy, director of a Growing Kids Learning Center in South Bend, says videos are used sparingly at her center, but not among children younger than 2. Before showing any video, “as a therapist and mom and educator,” she makes sure it isdevelopmentallyappropriate for their age.

For her, the determining factor is pace.

“As long as the visual effects aren’t overstimulating for their eyes or their brains,” she says. She hopes that like “Baby Einstein” videos (released by Disney), they “slow it down so it’s not boom-boom-boomboom- boom.”

Narvaez hopes parents will find other ways to spend time withtheir children. “That’s the time (0-2) when kids actually need to be carried around a lot. They need to have the face-to-face eye contact to get their emotional systems cued up right to be moral people.”

Originally published by Martha Patzer (in the South Bend Tribune) at on April 11, 2006.