For decades, the "baby media" industry has been been selling anxious parents books, DVDs, flashcards, and other products that claim to teach very young children learn to read and do math. "All babies are Einsteins when it comes to learning to read. Your baby can actually learn to read beginning at 3 months of age," one company claims. Another promises that "teaching your baby to read is easy."
The industry has been under siege in recent years for making promises it can't possibly meet. In 2008, lawyers threatened a class-action lawsuit against Baby Einstein unless the company offered customers refunds on their DVDs. In 2011, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission accusing the program "Your Baby Can Read" of engaging in false advertising. The following year, the company announced it was shutting down. (It's back in business now.)
A new study from New York University's education school shows there's good reason to be skeptical of baby media—and that many parents aren't nearly skeptical enough. The researchers worked with 117 children aged 10 to 18 months and their families; some of the babies were given the Your Baby Can Read program, while the rest received no intervention. Over the course of seven months, the researchers assessed several metrics of language development and reading comprehension to see if the program worked.