Ask a question about your child's media use

Michael RichStumped by how to guide your child through the new media landscape? You’re not alone. While research shows that young people spend more time using media–TV, movies, music, computers, Internet, cell phones, magazines and video games–than engaging in any other single activity except sleep, parents everywhere are desperately trying to work out how much and what kind of media is good for their child.

Enter resident media expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston. As a former Hollywood filmmaker, he’s a media lover. But as a pediatrician, he’s aware that media has both positive and negative effects on children’s health. Each week, he provides science-based answers and practical solutions to reader-submitted questions about media use. This week, he tackles educational baby videos:

Q: I just became an aunt for the first time and while looking for baby gifts, I keep coming across educational DVDs for infants. Will these help my nephew get a head start on learning?

Amateur Aunt in Boston, MA

A: Dear Amateur Aunt, Congratulations! Being an aunt gives you the unique opportunity to have significant influence in a child’s life, without causing you massive sleep deprivation. I get this question a lot because parents always want to offer learning opportunities for their children. Though these videos are often marketed as educational, research has so far shown us that they are not helpful to learning.

Because baby videos are a relatively new product, there is not a lot of research on how they affect children in the long term. While one study showed that kids who watched baby videos had slower language development than those who did not, a recent study we did here at the Center on Media and Child Health found that in infancy, television does no harm, but has no benefit either.

My recommendation is that parents not use screen media with their children before the age of 2. In infancy, children’s time is much better spent engaging in activities that help them interact with people and their environment such as playing with blocks, popping bubbles and being read to.

Amateur Aunt – the best gift you can give your nephew is your time and attention. However, if you’d like to bring a physical gift that encourages learning, look for a set of blocks or stacking cups, or even your favorite childhood book that you can read to him yourself!

Do you have a question about your child’s media use? Ask the Mediatrician today!

Also, check out this video about infants and television.