A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 61 percent of infants watch an hour of "screen media," primarily television, a day, while 90 percent of children 4-6 watch an average of about two hours of television.
The results of this study highlights recent developments in the television industry, such as the creation of BabyFirst TV, the first television network for infants, coming off the popularity of the Baby Einstein products.
My cousin and his wife regularly babysit for their friends and claim that Baby Einstein is intellectual crack for babies, as it almost always captivates the child. This phenomenon is undeniable. However, camps are divided about what that means. On the one hand, there are media effects theorists who cringe at the very thought of infants being subjected to the evil dumbing down of America and exposed to commercialism at such a young age. For instance, I have a couple in my extended family, both of whom are doctors, who will not allow their child near a television for her first few years of intellectual development.
Then, there's our director Henry Jenkins, once quoted in the San Jose Mercury News as saying that not allowing children to watch television is a form of child abuse. (The comment was meant a little tongue-in-cheek, of course, but that context was lost in the quotation.) But the theme is essentially close to how I feel. Media literacy is important, and television that appeals to the learning patterns of infants is not harmful and potentially very helpful in the conceptual process, since we live in such a media-saturated environment. Learning how to understand and cope with that media is important, and media has truly become the way we communicate as a culture. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we are moving television intiatives into even an infant market.