The consumer advocacy group that essentially shut down Disney-owned “The Baby Einstein” videos and got the Federal Trade Commission to slap a $185 million dollar settlement against the creators of “Your Baby Can Read” are after developers of apps that target babies.
In a complaint filed at the FTC yesterday, The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said smartphones don’t make babies smart and urge regulators to look into the marketing practices of Fisher-Price‘s “Laugh & Learn” mobile apps and Open Solutions games like “Baby Hear and Read” and “Baby First Puzzle.”
The Boston-based group said it targeted those companies because they had the most downloads among companies that it says tries to dupe parents into thinking the apps teach babies when in fact for that age they are more entertaining than educational.
“Everything we know about brain research and child development points away from using screens to educate babies,” director of the group Suan Linn said in the complaing. “The research shows that machines and screen media are a really ineffective way of teaching a baby language. What babies need for healthy brain development is active play, hands-on creative play and face-to-face” interaction.
It points out that the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any electronic “screen time” for infants and toddlers under 2 altogether and suggests 1-2 hour limits on older children. The complaint went on to point to at least one study that found infant videos can delay language development, and warns that no studies have documented a benefit of early viewing.
The apps have gotten great views, according to a rep from Open Solutions, who also agreed that apps should not be a substitute for personal interaction with a baby.
|Baby Hear and Read screenshot|
“We also don’t say ‘get this game and let it teach your child everything,’” the Slovakia-based company told the Associated Press in a written response.“We assume (the) child is playing the game with parent/sister/baby sitter. We think we have apps that can help parents with babies, either by entertaining babies or help them see new things, animals, hear their sounds, etc.”
Meanwhile, Fisher-Price’s senior director for child research Kathleen Alfano said in a statement that the N.Y.-based company relies on extensive child development research “to create appropriate toys for the ways children play, discover and grow” and that is has used its 80 years of research to apply to “play patterns into the digital space.”
Linn’s group alleges that the companies violate truth-in-advertising laws when they claim to “teach” babies skills.
Editorial: I did not know that the Babies Can Read folks got sued. I have a friend whose daughter learned to read at about 18 months using the system and my two youngest kids learned to read by age 4 watching the videos and going through its cards, occasionally. Screen apps and videos don’t work for all children but I’m not certain that they have no positive effect at all. There must be supplemental interaction and limits but exposure to screen stimuli may not necessarily be that bad.