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Pitching TV to infants

For nearly four decades, Sesame Street has been a touchstone of children’s programming. Its wholesome values, endearing characters and educational messages have contributed to the lives of billions of children worldwide. The show’s creator, Sesame Workshop, has been a significant voice in the discussion of child development, gaining numerous accolades and the respect of many of the field’s experts. However, its most recent project, a series of DVDs titled Sesame Beginnings, has created a rip in the organization’s previously seamless reputation.

Geared toward children from 6 months to 2 years old, Sesame Beginnings is intended to foster the child’s development and learning skills. The videos, which feature infant versions of classic Sesame Street characters, utilize song and dance as a means to depict examples of parent-child interaction. Rosemarie Truglio, Sesame Workshop’s vice president of education and research, claims the video was designed to fulfill a specific objective.

“We wanted to invite the parent into the viewing situation, to give the adult information about child development,” Truglio said in an article on MSN.com. “We took a long time and did a lot of research and preparation. We wanted to make sure we got this right.”

According to executives, Sesame Beginnings achieves a feat that other programs have been unable to fully realize.

Despite the company’s ostensibly positive ambitions, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has condemned the project. For years, the AAP has asserted that television can have a destructive effect on children less than 2 years of age. Research shows that this early period of life is crucial to the child’s development of learning skills, and television may severely impair these processes.

Other child advocate organizations concur with the AAP’s assessment of Sesame Beginnings.

“There is no evidence that screen media is beneficial for babies and growing evidence (shows) it may be harmful,” said Susan Linn, founder of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Believing the project’s goal is primarily monetary, Linn said, “Sesame Beginnings will encourage babies’ devotion to TV characters that have been licensed to promote hundreds of other products.”

Indeed, the Sesame Street name has become one of the most instantly recognizable and highly lucrative brands of children’s entertainment, and this fact only compounds the concern for detractors of this latest release. According to MSN.com, the AAP and similar organizations fear the involvement of Sesame Workshop, which has earned parents’ trust over the years, will persuade them that watching television can be beneficial to their children’s development.

Notwithstanding the vehement protests of the child development community, the creators of Sesame Beginnings maintain that their videos are well intentioned. They say the vast majority of parents already allow their toddlers to view a daily average of two hours of television, according to MSN.com. In fact, Sesame Workshop claims the videos offer a healthy alternative to existing programming, effectively improving the parent-child relationship. The company claims the AAP’s criticism of television’s effects on toddlers is completely unwarranted and remains staunch in its confidence that consumers will appreciate Sesame Beginnings as an ancillary tool to promote a healthy future for their children.

While both sides of this debate surely make valid points, the choice lies, as always, with parents. Although it is largely unknown what long-term effects television will have on young children, parents should carefully decide how to manage their children’s time, ultimately determining if Sesame Beginnings will be appropriate entertainment for their children or simply another attempt to exploit impressionable youths in a never-ending search for wealth.

Sources: www.imdb.com, www.msn.com, www.tv.com