Television for the wee ones

Experts can’t agree whether a new show for 6-month-olds is beneficial or detrimental.

Most college-aged students probably remember watching “Sesame Street” as kids. The popular PBS show featuring Big Bird and Snuffy, Elmo, Grover, Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch was a pioneer in educational television for small children. Now Sesame Workshop has created a new series of DVDs called “Sesame Beginnings,” aimed at children aged 6 months to 2 years.

“Sesame Beginnings” features many of the same “Sesame Street” characters as babies, as well as their parents. The company has come under fire, though, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which long has recommended no television at all for children younger than 2 years. The catch is that two-thirds of children younger than 2 already watch a couple of hours of television each day. So is the new show just a better alternative?

Sesame Workshop produced the DVDs with the help of a highly respected child development organization, Zero to Three. Psychologists are split over whether the new show is a bad idea, but there seems to be good intentions behind it. Sesame Workshop and Zero to Three say the DVDs are meant to be viewed by the children and parents together, not used as entertainment to replace a parent.

Opponents of the DVDs say the products are just a way to brainwash small children into becoming devoted to certain characters and, subsequently, sell more of their products. Children already are devoted to the “Sesame Street” characters, and there isn’t enough evidence to definitively show whether starting them a bit sooner is harmful. And if the DVDs help build healthy family relationships, is there really an issue?

That is a question yet to be answered. It seems that if the DVDs are used as intended, they should not necessarily be harmful. Perhaps more research is needed to determine the long-term effects of watching television as an infant. Until then, a generation acts as guinea pigs. And the only certainty is that a television show cannot possibly be more beneficial for a child than good old play and human interaction.