Mar 03 2014

Your Baby Still Can’t Read

Five years ago I wrote a blog post about the product, Your Baby Can Read. I concluded:

While the background concepts are quite interesting, the bottom line is that we have another product being marketed to the public with amazing claims and no rigorous scientific evidence to back them up. This product also falls into the broader category of gimmicky products claiming to make children smarter or more successful academically.

Anxious parents wanting to give their kids every advantage is a great marketing demographic, in that they are easily exploited. But like all gimmicky schemes promising easy answers to complex or difficult problems (weight loss, relationships, or academic success) in the end it is likely to be nothing but a costly distraction from more common sense approaches – like just spending quality time with your kids and giving them a rich and safe environment.  What such products often really provide is a false sense of control.

The comments quickly filled with parents who had used the system, which claims to teach even infants how to read, saying that the system worked for them.

I often write about products with claims that are not adequately backed by scientific data. Sometimes there is evidence that the product does not work. Other times there isn’t any research, or the scant research is insufficient to settle the question directly. I can always explore the plausibility of the claims, but without evidence I am left to say that  – the claims are not backed by evidence. This is often misinterpreted as me saying that the product does not work, usually followed by attempts to shift the burden of proof to me to prove a claim I actually never made.

As an aside, I often encounter this flawed reasoning, and even catch myself falling into this trap on occasion. We tend to categorize people into various positions, often a false dichotomy. Either you are for or against something. People will then assume that you hold the typical suite of positions held by whichever side they identify you with. This leads to them arguing against your perceived side, rather than your actual position and arguments. The result is people talking past each other – duelling narratives, rather than actual engagement. (Just read the comments to this blog and you will quickly see what I mean.)

I try to be careful with my words, and particularly pay attention to nuances such as the difference between lack of evidence for efficacy and evidence of lack of efficacy. Further, even if I argue that a particular claim is not very plausible, that does not mean I am not open to new evidence. If the evidence clearly shows that it works, I can reassess the plausibility.

With Your Baby Can Read, the claims have a lowish plausibility, but are not crazy. The idea is to start with a whole-word approach to get young children to associate written words with pictures and sounds, and then move on to new words. Certainly children are capable of learning, and perhaps they can learn to read younger than is typical if given the chance.

But – their brains are also still developing. Infants and toddlers develop at their own pace, and within a fairly broad range this is all normal and healthy. The rate at which children develop specific neurological abilities, like language, does not predict their ultimate ability. There is no evidence that you can force early neurological development. Children need enough stimulation to develop optimally, but giving them superstimulation will not, it seems, make them develop faster or better. Further, even if you could get them to develop certain skills ahead of schedule, this does not necessarily mean there will be any long term advantage. If you get your kids to read early they still may end up in exactly the same place at age 10.

Before making specific claims for a product, and before parents commit time, money, and energy to a teaching program for their children, these questions should be sorted out. Otherwise it seems far more likely that parents are going to waste precious time and energy on things that ultimately aren’t helpful.

All of these plausibility and practicality arguments, however, are ultimately not that satisfying. People just want to know – does it work? Now, five years after I wrote that first blog post on the topic, we finally have a direct study looking to see if such reading programs work. Here is the abstract:

Targeted to children as young as 3 months old, there is a growing number of baby media products that claim to teach babies to read. This randomized controlled trial was designed to examine this claim by investigating the effects of a best-selling baby media product on reading development. One hundred and seventeen infants, ages 9 to 18 months, were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. Children in the treatment condition received the baby media product, which included DVDs, word and picture flashcards, and word books to be used daily over a 7-month period; children in the control condition, business as usual. Examining a 4-phase developmental model of reading, we examined both precursor skills (such as letter name, letter sound knowledge, print awareness, and decoding) and conventional reading (vocabulary and comprehension) using a series of eye-tracking tasks and standardized measures. Results indicated that babies did not learn to read using baby media, despite some parents displaying great confidence in the program’s effectiveness.

Senior author, Susan Neuman, is quoted as saying:

“It’s clear that parents have great confidence in the impact of these products on their children,” Neuman explains. “However, our study indicates this sentiment is misplaced.”

So the one clear effect of this program is to convince parents that it works, despite having no effect on actual reading ability. That does make for an effective marketing strategy, creating the illusion of efficacy, but does not appear to do much for the children.

Of course, one study is never definitive, but this study seems reasonably designed and powered. One study does not “prove” that early child reading programs do not work. What we can say is that what evidence we do have is negative. Combined with the dubious plausibility (although not impossible) this clearly puts the burden on anyone claiming such products do work to provide more and better evidence to back up that claim.

This study also showed that the parents of children who did not display any actual reading ability still had a firm belief that their children had learned to read. This is perhaps the hardest thing to confront as a scientific skeptic – the individual who has been convinced by their personal powerful experience (the, “it worked for me” argument).  It takes a fairly extensive understanding of the various mechanisms of self-deception, what I call “neuropsychological humility,” before people will typically accept that their personal experience is misleading.

I get this. It would be incredibly destabilizing to have to confront, all at once, the unreliability of perception and memory and the profound effect of all the various biases in our cognition. Even just fully grasping the power of confirmation bias can be mind-blowing. When I tell a parent who is convinced that their child did not learn to read despite their direct experience that they did, I am not just asking them to surrender this one belief in the name of objective evidence, I am asking them to surrender the basis for how they make sense of reality, and replace it with an entirely different process.

When confronted in this way, the more common response is to maintain one’s belief, which involves rejecting the science. People will not only reject the specific science in the way of their belief, they will often reject science itself.  The more they are confronted, the more they must recall and strengthen evidence and arguments that support their belief. The more scientific evidence is in the way, the more they have to reject science. If consensus is in the way, then they reject consensus. This can lead to increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories. The greater the evidence that opposes their belief, the larger the conspiracy must be. I, of course, as the messenger for the science, must be part of the conspiracy (manifesting as the shill gambit).

This is all part of motivated reasoning, and we encounter its full spectrum, from finding fault with a single study, to a full blown conspiracy and anti-science world view. To be clear, parents who falsely believe their children can read are on the very mild end of this spectrum. But the process is the same, and it’s important to understand such processes before they lead farther and farther down the rabbit hole.


Back in 2009 I wrote that companies that market products claiming to teach infants how to read did not have the science to back up their claims. Now I can add that a large and reasonably rigorous clinical trial finds absolutely no benefit from such programs, but do lead to the false belief among parents that their children did learn to read.

At the very least this should caution new parents against readily believing marketing hype about any “baby genius” product. As with many things, it is often better to cover the basics well than to spend lots of time and money on getting a perceived special edge. Spend time with your children, enjoy them, nurture them, bond with them – but don’t feel pressured into drilling them with lessons to make them develop faster or become super children. You’re just paying for motivated reasoning.


34 responses so far

34 thoughts on “Your Baby Still Can’t Read”

  1. ccbowers says:

    “There is no evidence that you can force early neurological development. Children need enough stimulation to develop optimally, but giving them superstimulation will not, it seems, make them develop faster or better.”

    Anecdote alert. I remember when my first daughter was about 3 or 4 (prior to school), I was trying to teach her a concept that I thought she might understand (I don’t remember the concept, but it was something only I would teach her). Despite multiple attempts, it was clear that it was beyond what she could grasp at the time, so a stopped trying to explain it and moved on. About one month later, she demonstrated understanding of the same concept back to me. I remember that during this time period, she could not have been exposed to the concept (My wife never speaks to my children in English in order to raise them bilingually).

    Anyways, there have been many similar situations, in which I realized that development is often a limiting factor in learning, and that you can’t “force” understanding (or if you could it is not very efficient). You are better off providing a good environment for learning, especially early on.

  2. ccbowers says:

    I also find the “it worked for me” argument tough to deal with. I usually don’t push it, because I have found that it doesn’t work when a specific topic is being discussed. The trouble with explaining “neuropsychological humility” is that it requires a bit of “neuropsychological humility.” It seems much easier to discuss the concept at another time (when they are not defending their experiences), since people find their own experiences so compelling.

    I remember first realizing some aspects of this concept on my own as I was growing up, and I am surprised at how little understanding of this concept is out there in the general population. Much of it seems pretty obvious if a person pays attention in their lives. Seeing the lack of neuropsychological humility in others is a pretty big clue, as is realizing how inaccurate our memories are, e.g. I have childhood “memories” that are clearly from photos as I can sometimes ‘see’ myself in them. The problem seems to be that they can see these flaws in others, but have difficulty seeing their own flaws.

  3. DietRichCola says:

    I will attest to the “effective marketing strategy” of this product. I fell asleep on the couch with the TV turned on one night, and I woke up the next morning with only one thought running through my head:

    “My baby can read! I don’t know how I know this, but dammit, my baby can read!”

    Of course, I have no children… but I was thoroughly convinced of this “fact” and was ready to tell it to everyone I met that day. I also really really wanted to get a hand-crafted Amish electric heater… but that’s beside the point.

    In all seriousness, I really did wake up with a profound belief in the fact that my baby could ready, even though I didn’t have one. I feel like anyone who can stand to sit through an entire infomercial must be exposed to some very good psychological techniques or subliminal messaging that will already make their brain pre-wired to believe in its efficacy, even before they’ve tried the product. Add a small dash of confirmation bias and the company really has a winning marketing strategy for selling their product. If sleeping through a few of their infomercials made me feel that “my baby could read” so strongly, imagine the effect it will have on nervous or eager parents who really just want to do whatever they can to help their child succeed. While I can’t prove that it’s nefarious marketing strategy, it certainly is genius.

  4. zorrobandito says:

    ‘I also find the “it worked for me” argument tough to deal with. I usually don’t push it, because I have found that it doesn’t work when a specific topic is being discussed. The trouble with explaining “neuropsychological humility” is that it requires a bit of “neuropsychological humility.” It seems much easier to discuss the concept at another time (when they are not defending their experiences), since people find their own experiences so compelling.’

    I’m confronting this in my family, many of whom after living many years (in one case, over 70 years) eating normally, are suddenly gluten-intolerant, which usually spreads to being dairy-intolerant, and in one case has gone finally to corn and soy as well. (I’m hoping that this individual, my brother, is getting enough to eat!)

    So long as we are as rich as we are currently (rich enough to pick over our food rather than simply eating whatever we can get) I suppose this is harmless. It probably does “work for him” (whatever that means) even if we are only viewing the placebo effect. In any case I am certainly not going to try to force him to eat a sandwich if he doesn’t want to.

    Where we cross over the line, though, and I think this has a tendency to happen even in the baby-can-read area, is when it jumps to insisting or implying that because it works for him or them, if I don’t follow suit I’m damaging my health/neglecting my baby/whatever. There is an almost religious fervor. (You can leave out the “almost” in my family.) If I have heard one explanation of how bad gluten is I’ve heard 100, and the thrust of these discussions (which are always one-way, more sermons than discussions) is always “clean up your act! get salvation!”

    Eating normally works for me. Perhaps this is even more confirmation bias, but I haven’t given it a lot of thought.

    About the babies, this effort is of long standing, and I have always asked myself what it is exactly that a two-year-old, say, is going to read which would improve her life? Is she ready for deep works of science or philosophy, even if we can teach her to decode the written language? Wouldn’t she be better off going out to stomp in the mud?

  5. Kawarthajon says:

    Based on my understanding of infant and toddler development, even if you could somehow excelerate language development, you would risk overstimulating them and contribute to regression in other areas of development. Infants can only handle so much at once and then they shut down.

    There are so many electronic “learning” resources out there for babies (i.e. Baby Einstein) or media produced just for infants. It all seems to be a bunch of garbage that will either have no impact on a child’s development or may delay their development. Babies should not be in front of a screen or video game for any reason at all. Human to human stimulation is the best option.

    As for the “it works for me” attitude, any parent will be amazed at their child’s development, no matter what product they are using (or not using). So it doesn’t surprise me that parents are acting this way when they use Baby Can Read products, because there’s lots of opportunities for confirmation bias. The way kids develop is pretty amazing.

  6. TheFlyingPig says:

    @zorrobandito, I find this whole gluten-free thing to be really funny because it’s a faddish disease. I have to assume it’s at its most intense in LA, where I see so many restaurants with little gluten-free symbols on half the items in their menus. I hadn’t heard of the sort of situation you’re in, but I guess that’s one important way that these kind of fads spread.

    @Kawarthajon, “excelerate” is such an accellent misspelling that google shows a plethora of businesses that use it in their names… neat stuff. But more seriously, I’m curious about your statement that “Babies should not be in front of a screen or video game for any reason at all.” Why is that? I understand that human contact is critical and children (especially very young ones) shouldn’t get a TV as a baby-sitter, but ‘none at all’ is extreme. I’d think that since computers will be an important part of anybody’s life, some early exposure would be a benefit.


  7. banyan says:

    A bit off topic, but… why would you want your baby to learn to read so early?

  8. DietRichCola says:

    @Banyan, obviously you have never sat at the park behind a group of parents who are all passive aggressively telling each other how brilliant and advanced and superior THEIR children are and — by comparison — how ridiculously far behind, simple, and stupid everyone else’s children are (especially those of the other parents sitting there).

    It’s as mind numbing to listen to as any alternative medicine proponent talking about their favorite woo (and the conversation usually contains just as many facts).

  9. Kawarthajon says:


    Yes, my spelin sukcs. Sory bout that! 😉

    Regarding the screen time for babies, you can chalk it up to personal choice as a parent – there’s no law about limits on the amount of media a baby can consume. The American Academic of Pediatrics recommends no screen time of any kind for kids under two.

    I don’t think there’s enough research on the subject, but the idea is that any screen time for babies takes them away from time they should spend exploring the world and interacting with others, which are the ways in which they learn. There is also the suspicion that early exposure to electronic media can increase the chances that a child develops obesity. There is no evidence that infants can learn anything from any kind of screen, so why bother?

  10. jameshcunningham says:

    “A bit off topic, but… why would you want your baby to learn to read so early?”

    So you can leave him instructions when you’ll be gone for more than a day or two? Duh.

  11. DietRichCola says:

    @Kawarthajon, I don’t really disagree with what you’re saying, but I’m curious on your thoughts about the fact that the world kids grow up with now IS so rife with technology, so interacting with screens IS part of exploring the world they live in and interacting with others.

    For instance, my nephew is about one and a half years old. And he LOVES everything electronic that even remotely resembles a controller or a cell phone. He always wants to turn the TV on or change the channel… but he is less interested in what is actually on the screen than with the fact that HE is the one controlling it. My sister has tried giving him “fake” controllers, but he quickly realizes they have no effect on any of the appliances and abandons them. He loves the iPad, but what he likes best about it is FaceTiming people so he can see them and interact with them. He HATES being picked up by anyone but his parents (even grandma barely gets away with it)… but my first success in picking him up was in offering him the car key fob so he could help me unlock the doors.

    So in a way, he IS interacting with the world around him and learning those skills. He’s definitely exposed to a lot of screens and electronics, but he still seems to just enjoy his ability to manipulate the world around him, so at least to me, this seems like a positive thing. In comparison to my childhood (and yours I imagine), he is just surrounded by a lot more screens and electronics than we ever were… so his “world” is just different. I would agree that if he was just zoning out in front of toons all day, it would NOT likely be beneficial… but I feel like this is somehow different, and that denying him this interaction would actually negatively affect his ability to place himself in relation to the world around him.

    But I would DEFINITELY love to hear your take on this.

  12. Kawarthajon says:

    DietRichCola –

    I think you’ve definitely hit on the major concern of allowing infants screen time – that they will be zoned out in front of the tv. Ultimately, it is a personal choice. I think that kids get way too much time on screens on average – – and I’m not the only one to think this. On average in the US, preschoolers spent 5.6 hours a day on a screen. A recent study on teens found this number to be closer to 11 hours. Little kids love technology (just like adults do) because they are designed to capture our attention, alter our sense of time and suck us in. That way, people will buy more and other people get rich. Just because they love it, doesn’t mean it’s good for them.

    Infants and toddlers love to play make believe or with toys that mimic the real world, and that’s awesome. They pretend to take care of babies, or pets or cook or talk on the phone because they see their parents doing it and they want to learn how, which they do in part by playing. Nothing wrong with that. It is better when adults around them model healthy boundaries with technology and other things, so that kids growing up can balance life with technology and without technology. My advice, take it or leave it. I need to be better at following that advice and put my phone/laptop down more often. Technology has become my curse – I can accomplish a lot more work, but spend less and less time interacting with my kids. Remember – too much technology is not healthy for adults either!

    This is the advice that I give parents: there is no evidence that technology helps infants learn, so they shouldn’t spend any time on tv, computers, tablets, etc. They should be playing with toys, parents, siblings, etc.

    Toddlers can benefit from small amounts of educational tv, as it has been shown that they can learn things like basic letters/numbers from tv. I would guess the same is true for games and apps if they are designed to be educational, but it’s only a guess. The more screen time a child gets, the higher the risk that they will have future health and behavioural problems (i.e. paying attention in class), even if watching educational tv. Tv and screen time can never out do the learning/growth a child can do with a parent, sibling, family member, friend or just being outside in nature. Human interaction rocks when helping babies/toddlers to learn and nothing can replace it.

    School aged children’s screen time should be limited because the more screen time, the higher the chance of obesity and other problems. You are also setting up long-term patterns for your child early on – if they spend a lot of time in front of the screen as kids, they probably will as adults too.

    There is some evidence to suggest that teens who spend a lot of time on their phone/computers/tablets have poorer social/academic skills than those who spend less time. Other problems, like obesity, academic skills, also apply. Their screen time should be managed and be reasonable.

    Ultimately, it’s a personal choice.

  13. ChrisH says:

    banyan: “why would you want your baby to learn to read so early?”

    Brag points. There is also the “tiger mom/dad” syndrome.

    And some parents who did well in school, try to push their kids to do the same. That was my excuse, until I learned some stuff the hard way. I played German tapes for my toddler, but then I found out he had a severe speech disability and was not even going to speak English without lots of help from trained speech therapists. So instead of the uber popular college prep preschool, he went to a special ed. preschool.

    So my younger kids benefited, and they only went to playgroups, just half day kindergarten, and were supplied with lots of art supplies. They did fine, and ended up being high school honor students. The youngest even speaks three non-English languages (she just walked in, and told me she needs to finish a project so is stressed out… she does it to herself, so there is no reason for me to push her).

    The oldest is still learning disabled, and I have met several other parents who were shocked when their kids were not what they expected. At one meeting of special parents one mother mentioned that when she got a call from the kindergarten to talk about her son, she assumed he was going to be put into a gifted program. It turned out her son had several learning deficits, and was going to be receiving the help he needed.

    I have learned that childhood is not a competition, but a journey.

  14. zorrobandito says:


    Beautiful story!

    I have a learning disabled child and three over-achievers. They’re all adults now. I’m very proud of all four of them. My efforts, while certainly necessary, were not the major factor in their various achievements.

    It is not just childhood, but life itself, which is not a competition, but a journey.

  15. ChrisH says:

    Thank you.

    By the way, I became familiar with Dr. Novella from his article the Doman-Delacato patterning. It was something being discussed in some online special ed. groups a bit over a decade ago. I think Doman, or one of his associates were also pushing some “Better Baby Institute” when my two oldest were very young in the early 1990s.

  16. rulerofthemoon says:

    Well, I am, in fact, a three year old baby who not only learned to read with this program, but I also learned to write with the companion program, “Your Baby Can Write Comedy.”

  17. Donna B. says:

    I question that teens average 11 hours/day screen time and that preschoolers average 5.6 hours/day. Perhaps some do, but the “average” teen and preschooler simply cannot. It’s too many hours out of 24 to not be questioned.

    Preschoolers, especially, have trouble sitting still long enough for that to happen.

    I also think that screen-time is not a bad thing at all when an adult is actively sharing it with the child. One incident that comes to mind is watching my granddaughters (2 & 4 years old at the time) showing their great-grandfather how to use their Kindles.

    How do you classify that 30 minutes? Screen-time = bad — or sitting on great-grandfather’s lap sharing something with him = good?

    How do you classify the Facetime that preschoolers spend with grandparents who live a 1000 miles away? Or the Skype time with an aunt or uncle who lives 5000 miles away?

    And I’m not about to condemn the parent that uses screen-time to pacify a child buckled into a car seat or to distract one during a 1000 mile flight to visit grandparents.

    Furthermore, years (I’m in my 60s) of experience — from babysitting when I was a teenager to raising my children and spending time with my grandchildren — has also taught me that babies, toddlers, preschoolers… kids, in general, aren’t going to do or learn anything until they’re darn well ready to. Parents and teachers can easily prolong the learning process, but seldom can they speed it up.

    Seems like everyone here is mostly on the same page — it’s the interaction with adults that makes the difference, not the tool that’s being used.

  18. ChrisH says:

    An appropriate comic:

    (by the way, as a teenager my younger son said the cartoonists must have had a camera set up in our house, it reflected those years of his life)

  19. sonic says:

    My baby prefers to read murder mysteries.
    No doubt she enjoys solving the puzzles.

    My baby prefers musical scores.
    He can hear the orchestra by reading the score.

    My baby got upset the other day.
    Someone had left the QED off the end of a proof he was reading.

    Your baby can read words? How quaint.

  20. dcw25 says:

    The problem here dwells on the definition of reading. The authors of the study you cite are aware of this and state “Decoding by itself is not reading; similarly, comprehension of words without the ability to unlock words into their constituent parts is not reading. Both must work in concert for individuals to be able to read with meaning.” This is perhaps a defensible view, however, Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. If you think you read the previous sentence, you disagree with the authors of the baby reading study. People who can read recognize previously encountered words not by their constituent parts, but as an “object”.

    Yes, the children who can “read” who learned by the sight method cannot reliably identify words they haven’t previously encountered. They can also correctly pronounce many words that they don’t understand. Further, in my experience (yes my daughter learned to recognize word objects at a young age and could “read” full sentences by 2.5 yrs old) they can know how to say a word but have no idea how to spell it.

    I refuse to call you out on specific points in your article publicly, but thank you for the inspiration… I think I will initiate a study this fall in my son’s daycare.

  21. grabula says:

    This is an interesting topic for me as I’m in the 7 month of life for my daughter. It’s absolutely amazing how fast they learn. For example, I began taking my daughter to ‘swimming’ lessons – mostly designed to get really young kids accustomed to water. I didn’t have many expectations other than hoping she would learn to love the water as I did as a child. In the 4-5 weeks we’ve been attending – she’s learned to consistantly kick her feet, user her arms and just today began ‘jumping’ from the ledge of the pool into the water (I’m holding her but she’s initiating the action by pushing off – in this case I noticed she watched the kid next to her before the concept clicked.)

    Everyday I feel like I see a new behaviour and I get to watch her really awaken to the world. I could imagine it would be easy to fall into the trap of believing your child is some sort of ‘super-kid’ if you didn’t try to understand how they develop over time. I haven’t even bothered to compare her to other children, my mother in law and wife feel she’s well within the ‘norms’ and that’s good enough for me.

    Of course we have a friend whose child was born a few weeks before ours and she’s constantly updating the world on his ‘stardom’. It get’s tiresome and I almost feel for the kid.

    Ultimately I just want to be a good father and to give my daughter a good life.

  22. Bruce says:

    Enjoyed the article and I think the comments that followed have been quite heartening too. Being a new father (15 months… how long can I call myself new?) who wants to watch his son develop as a well adjusted happy child first and foremost; a lot of what is bieng said is vindicating my own personal beliefs and experiences.

    There one point I want to bring up though, because it kind of frustrates me when statements like the following are said (Kawarthajon):

    “There is some evidence to suggest that teens who spend a lot of time on their phone/computers/tablets have poorer social/academic skills than those who spend less time.”

    I would really like to see this evidence that shows that it is BECAUSE they spend time on the computers that they lack the skills. Could it be that because they lack the skills they spend more time in solitary pursuits? I am not sure the science is quite as definite as it is implied there, but I am willing to be proven wrong.

    Ultimately though, Donna pretty much summed it up for me:

    “Seems like everyone here is mostly on the same page — it’s the interaction with adults that makes the difference, not the tool that’s being used.”

    Before computers it was the TV, before that it was the wireless or the cinema, before that it was undoubtedly some other newfangled technology. I bet we could go back 300 years and have some old guy tutting at something a baby is doing and saying “back in my day we never…”

  23. Bill Openthalt says:

    In English, there is no reliable connection between spelling and pronunciation, and to all intents and purposes, words are indeed “objects” (cf. G H Trenite’s The Chaos Other languages maintain a closer connection between pronunciation and spelling (sometimes at the expense of the intelligibility of older texts), and one can indeed learn the rules, and read and pronounce words one doesn’t know. What works for one language doesn’t necessarily work for other languages, and what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for other children (even those of the same family).

    There is no reason to believe computer-based toys are better or worse than wooden toys; kids are born with the desire and ability to learn, and they should learn about the society they will live in, not the imaginary society of their parent’s frustrations and illusions. Far too many parents use their children to try and achieve their own goals and ambitions. We should help and support our children, not use them for our own purposes (such pursuing sports or academic careers we wanted to have but couldn’t, or fighting ideological battles we were too chicken to fight ourselves).

  24. Bronze Dog says:

    I don’t see what’s wrong with giving kids time with electronics, so long as it’s done in moderation.

    Some of the anti-electronic/TV rhetoric I’ve heard tends to treat the tools of the modern world as if they were optional, trivial entertainment. There’s often a social element that gets dismissed, much like one troll, sensing my nerdity, claimed that playing D&D with a group of friends wasn’t real social interaction.

    And yeah, I’d like a clear direction of causation for favoring online social interaction and private entertainment. Once upon a time, I regularly went to a comic store to play card games, and generally hang out with other geeks. After I moved to a new city, I don’t know any local place where I can go and meet people with similar interests. The other factor is that I’m a scientifically minded liberal in Texas, so any “generic” social gathering feels like a field of landmines. So I go online for my social and entertainment needs.

  25. Bruce says:

    “There’s often a social element that gets dismissed, much like one troll, sensing my nerdity, claimed that playing D&D with a group of friends wasn’t real social interaction.”

    I worked my way back into a social life (after anxiety and depression issues) by playing World of Warcraft (with my then long distance girlfriend… now wife and mother of my child) and had a massive boost in confidence from actually being listened to and taken seriously during raids (raid leading skills are actually very transferrable in the real world).

    I don’t play so often now and fully understand the perils and the problems with going to extremes, but I really don’t like the negative blanket computer games and interacting online gets draped with. I have quite a number of friends who I have met online and consider them as close or even closer than most people I meet in person every day.

    (… just reading that back I can’t help but think of those people who say “I have plenty of {insert ethnic minority} friends!”)

  26. Mike H says:

    “It takes a fairly extensive understanding of the various mechanisms of self-deception, what I call “neuropsychological humility,” before people will typically accept that their personal experience is misleading.”

    I wouldn’t say that personal experience is automatically misleading, only that it may be misleading. But this point is critical. Personal experience is the one form of evidence (one of the lowest forms) that everyone needs to learn to be the most skeptical of.

    Steve, I think you nailed it in paragraph 16 and 17. When discussing anything, one simply hits a brick wall when you hear “I don’t care about your scientific evidence, your double blinded studies, your general consensus. All I know from my personal experience is that it worked for me.” Once you hear those words, you’re no longer in a battle that could be decided in one discussion. You are in an all out war that could take weeks, months or even years to try to get them to understand the ways in which we deceive ourselves. And I think those two paragraphs sums it up nicely. We are not just trying to educate someone, or get them to understand fallacies, or to change their mind. We really are trying to get them to an entirely different paradigm of evaluating reality by avoiding the pitfalls we all fall into striving to uncover what is actually true.

  27. zorrobandito says:

    I know the original topic was about infants, but we have begin to discuss computers and computer games, and I notice that the alert people who are now parents of older children, especially those who are technologically skilled themselves, are VERY cautious about both computer time and computer content when dealing with their pre-adolescent and adolescent children. This was not a problem for my generation in raising our children (I am 68).

    There is a lot of stuff out there on the internet. It really is the wild wild west, justly analogous to the frontier towns where cowboys rode their horses into the bars. A lot of it is no place for a 14 year old. It can also be incredibly seductive, so that children spend many hours every day interacting with …. whatever or whoever.

    One relatively simple problem is the lack of physical exercise. I have a daughter and a son-in-law, both professional techies, raising a 13 year old in the Netherlands, where all kids cycle to school, and where schools have meaningful physical education requirements, and still they worried enough to get Mr. Computer-Head a bouncy ball in lieu of a desk chair (this simple device has been surprisingly effective) and to seriously limit his screen time.

    Yes it is important to prepare a child for the society he is going to live in, but we must remember that the adults in this society tend to be very sedentary, and this has negative health consequences. We’re not trying, are we? to just swallow the thing whole?

    Then there is content. … I cannot see any substitute here for the expedient my children are using, constant parental supervision (to the extent possible). I am a gamer myself and I love the internet and especially interactive games, but not everything out there is wholesome.

  28. Gallenod says:

    My wife and I have always been avid readers and, as additional family motivation, my mother was a first grade teacher for most of her 37 years teaching public school because she loved teaching children to read.

    So when we became parents, my wife and I began reading books to our children as soon as they were attentive enough to associate what we were saying with the pictures in the books. We didn’t do any of the video learning stuff, like Baby Einstein or Baby Mozart. We just spend quality time with our children and books.

    So, at 22 months our son could pretty much recognize the entire alphabet A to Z, and could also recognize a few favorite words (largely by rote, though, not because he could read in the conventional sense). We played a little game in the car after picking up my father at the airport on the drive home: I wrote all 26 letters, one at a time, on his little Magna-Doodle and my son successfully identifed 24 of the 26 letters. My father was suitably impressed, but what really blew his mind was when I wrote “TACO BELL” and my son saw it and yelled “Taco Bell!” in response. I have to admit, though, that Taco Bell was his favorite restaurant and that he could recognize the letter pattern in the sign and probably wasn’t reading. (Though I didn’t tel my father that at the time.)

    Over the years, my son (and daughter) also became (and remains) an avid reader. I read the first Harry Potter book to him when he was five; he read all the rest of them himself. I believe this is more because we showed him that books were important and fun, not because we started training him before he was two years old, though making books a center of his development likely did help. But I don’t see a need for magic bullet or tiger mom type programs. Just invest quality time with your children with books, music, rational discussion and anything else you want them to value. That’s good parenting.

  29. Calli Arcale says:


    This is the advice that I give parents: there is no evidence that technology helps infants learn, so they shouldn’t spend any time on tv, computers, tablets, etc. They should be playing with toys, parents, siblings, etc.

    There is no evidence these things help them, so they should spend no time on them? That seems needlessly alarmist, to presume that because there is no evidence they are helpful that they must be avoided entirely. I think it is better to offer a varied mix of entertainment options — and entertainment is absolutely educational, though perhaps not always in the scholastic sense. Very young children are learning every second that they are awake, whether you want them to be learning or not. It’s not something that switches off. From television, they are learning the same things that are learned from books and plays and songs — the basic structure of our culture’s storytelling. And that is something they do benefit from, regardless of the medium. I have a literature degree, and I would contend that it is best to expose them to as many different media as possible, while they are very young and can draw the connections between them. See how the same things are conveyed when there are different tools available to do it.

    “Baby Einstein” got mentioned; I don’t think those videos will make your child an Einstein, but they are very entertaining to children. And there is a certain degree of expedience; those videos got us through a lot of long car rides, and allowed many loads of laundry to be safely completed. I was put in a playpen while my mom did chores that prevented her giving me adequate attention, for my own safety. I don’t see how Baby Einstein is any worse than that. The key, as with everything, is moderation. Give your children a *varied* life, and you will give them the best opportunities to equip themselves for life.

  30. Bill Openthalt says:

    Zorrobandito —

    I know the original topic was about infants, but we have begin to discuss computers and computer games, and I notice that the alert people who are now parents of older children, especially those who are technologically skilled themselves, are VERY cautious about both computer time and computer content when dealing with their pre-adolescent and adolescent children. This was not a problem for my generation in raising our children (I am 68).

    From personal experience :), there is no reason to believe computers and computer content are worse for children than previous human artefacts. They just happen to be the new thing of this era. My three older children grew up during the 1980ies and 1990ies, when PCs were not very common, cell ‘phones were for salespeople, and books were dead trees only. The three younger ones growing up today are surrounded by screens, text with their friends, and read books on their Kindles. All of them were, and are, young humans exploring the world they live in to the best of their abilities. I don’t want them to learn about my imaginary ideal world (which in my case is a technological world anyway :)), pursue my lost dreams, or fight my ideological battles.

  31. grabula says:

    Anecdotally, my sister and I became part of an expanded family when my mother remarried, and we gained another brother and sister. 4 of us, all aged in sequence between 4 years (myself, my sister, step brother, step sister). As the oldest I was about 8, the youngest being 4 so none of us were really “babies” so to speak. None the less we got the same amount of exposure to TV and video games. I received slightly more since my father was a computer programmer and technofile and I followed his interests.

    Over the years, my sister and I tended to be involved moderately with tv and video games and other such media. I tended to like to be outside, while my sister spent most of her days with friends listening to music. My step siblings had a tendancy to not only gravitate towards TV, they would get eerily entranced by it. As they got older my step sister tended to spend more time with friends out doors or just out and about, my step brother to this day remains a strong technofile. Ultimately we all developed attitudes towards electronics that were variable and not consistant, even though we were raised essentially the same way.

  32. Bruce says:


    “but not everything out there is wholesome.”

    I don’t disagree with you, I just object to the demonisation of tech. It always comes down to avoiding extremes and while I am happy for my son to have the odd fascination and zoning out for 5 or 10 minutes with my phone or some piece of tech (remote controls!!!) I also ensure I play with him with his mega blocks, he LOVES the act of turning book pages and take him out for walks and play peekaboo etc.

    As he gets older I will definitely be looking into parental internet blocks as I know the internet has some pretty horrific stuff on it and loading that into a child’s mind could be quite overwhelming. Just like we don’t let our kids play in the front garden unattended, I would not let him out on the internet alone, at least until he is old enough to understand what he might find.

  33. Kawarthajon says:

    @Calli Arcale “That seems needlessly alarmist”

    Like I said, it is up to the individual parent to decide. I think that there is enough evidence to convince me that putting limits on screen time for kids of all ages is a good idea and for not giving infants any screen time. Call me alarmist, but I want what’s best for my kids and access TV, computers, tablets, etc., are limited in my home, this based on my unscientific opinion (controlled studies can’t be done). I never said that I judged others for the choices they make about screen time in their own homes. I agree with you wholly that moderation is key.

    Of course, I may be biased by my work, in which I have seen many families that have no boundaries with respect to screen time for their children and, in my opinion, their children suffer neglect as a result. These homes also typically have problems with poverty, transiency, drugs, domestic violence, etc., as well, so screen time is low down on the priority list of things to address.

  34. jwmiller64 says:

    I would be interested in what the research has to say about preschool education. There seems to be a big push to get all kids into preschool as it supposedly is important in their future success in school. I have alway thought it was a way to get parents some much needed recovery time from being with their kids 24/7

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