Why parents should ignore the make-your-baby-smarter industry

As a noted child development researcher and, even more relevant, a father of seven children, Stephen Camarata says parents are increasingly anxious over whether they’re giving their children every advantage to excel in school.

A new book says parents don't need flashcards and DVDs to raise bright children. They need to trust their instincts and enjoy their kids. (AJC File)

A new book says parents don’t need flashcards and DVDs to raise bright children. They need to trust their instincts and enjoy their kids. (AJC File)

Parents are bombarded with what Camarata considers misinformation on so-called critical learning windows and brain development. Much of the misleading claims, he says, come from the make-your-baby-smarter industry that capitalizes on parent fears with “science-based” videos, books and toys promising to “to boost your children’s learning potential.”

“I feel like the joy and all the wonderful things that go along with parenting are being stolen from these parents by all the pressure and all the products,” said Camarata in a telephone interview from Nashville where he is a professor at Vanderbilt University. “Parents are so busy teaching their kids letters and numbers to get them ready for preschool they are missing out on all the awesome stuff.”

Camarata’s work with children with delayed speech and learning disabilities brings him in contact with hundreds of parents, and most, he says, “seem worried, if not downright petrified by the short- and long-term consequences of their everyday parenting choices.”

In his new book, “The Intuitive Parent,” Camarata attempts to ease parent angst with a message that echoes Benjamin’s Spock’s famous reassurance to new parents, “You know more than you think you do.”

Camarata’s updated message: Parents have all the state-of-the-art knowledge required to wire their children’s brains for success. They don’t have to worry about amplifying every exchange into a teachable moment. Parents have to pay attention to their children and respond to them intuitively and naturally. Babies learn best and most through simple, relational interactions, said Camarata.

In 10 minutes cooing with her baby in a rocking chair, a mother demonstrates multiple lessons through the back and forth communication. She does not have to pull out flashcards or a black and white play mat. Her face, voice and expressions teach the baby all he needs to know in that instance.

“The magic of those moments and the millions of times they occur in a child’s life, from birth until he enters school, is crucial not only for a baby’s emotional development but for ensuring his developing brain is properly wired for a lifetime of thinking, learning and social interactions,” said Camarata, a worldwide expert on speech delays in children and author of “Late-Talking Children.”

His new book details why the push for acceleration and hours spent in front of screens may be leading to a rise in learning challenges, including hyperlexia where children can read words, but can’t comprehend meaning. Camarata worries excessive computer and video usage can compound the challenges of children on the autism spectrum, feeding their reduced motivation for social interaction, rigid adherence to routine and language disorders.

He also discusses in the book whether the rise in children identified with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder could be linked to excessive use of DVDs, videos and computers. Children learn from screens in a passive, two-dimensional, mechanistic way and thus may arrive at school without the social skills to function in a classroom that requires listening and interacting with others in a three-dimensional space, he said.

On the other hand, wiggly kids — Camarata says he was one and was saved by an understanding teacher who let him walk around during reading — are often mislabeled ADHD.

His own son faced that situation. It turns out the boy had a reading disability that he overcame with his parents’ help and now works in a field that requires immense concentration; he’s an air traffic controller, said Camarata.

He advises parents to seek an individualized evaluation when told their young child is hyperactive or inattentive; it may be the structure of the classroom or the teaching of material beyond the child’s skill level.

Camarata finds little value in very early reading and academic kindergartens. “You could sit down with 2-year-olds and teach them to read ‘War and Peace’ through rote recall. But they don’t have the language for understanding that. Showing them letters when they are babies will wire their brains for seeing and recognizing letters, it will not teach them to read or comprehend what they read,” he said.

He urges parents to stop worrying about maximizing their child’s potential and accelerating their development. Children come ready to learn; they do it on their own schedule and in their own way. If parents follow their instincts and their child’s lead, Camarata says everyone will be happier and healthier.

Reader Comments 1

17 comments
MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Happy Labor Day Weekend to one and all, including Maureen Downey and her family. . .

I hope some will take the time to read what I have posted, below, because I think that my long-evolving thoughts, over many years of reflection, will foster that peace in the world we all seek.  It will take putting together paradoxes in our own minds, and expanding those paradoxes to a point where they can contain harmony, to build that world peace, just as John Kerry and President Obama understand as they build relationships with world leaders who at times have been America's enemies. 

The Six-Member nation agreement with Iran, including the U.S., Russia, China and the United Kingdom, France, and Germany is an example where, even with so-called enemy nations in the world, we can forge ways to work together for our mutual benefit. My below post starts specifically with seemingly paradoxical or different approaches to the teaching of reading skills, but it builds to a crescendo of a worldview for building peace on Earth.  We are all becoming one on Earth, as climate change and refugee and immigrant movement have demonstrated already. We will need to find ways to continue to work in harmony, even with former enemies, for the mutual benefit of all of our children throughout the planet, and their children, in matters such as nuclear disarmament and climate change, among other matters, some of which cannot now be foreseen.

Astropig
Astropig

@MaryElizabethSings 

If you believe for one second that Iran does not intend to use nuclear weapons against the Jewish state,then your dream world of old movies,seances with Thomas Jefferson and poetry by nitwits has finally driven you 'round the bend.Iran and Israel will only be "former" enemies when one of them is destroyed by the other.


MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

As a reading specialist, I have helped many students to learn to read well (or better), from remedial students to advanced students and I well know the value of pre-kindergarden students knowing their letters and sounds and sight words even before they start kindergarten.


However, I applaud this author for understanding beyond letters and sounds and individual words, the organic, development whole of nurturing a child from birth onward to be one with himself emotionally, physically, and intellectually.  A parent's nurturing in these ways has tremendous impact upon even reading skills.  We know that often when children stutter, it often springs from an interruption in the natural emotional development of many of these children.  And, I applaud this author for understanding that each child will have his own natural rate of development in absorbing skills.  This is what I have mentioned regarding continuous progress in grades 1 - 12, but in actuality this individual rate of development begins before grade one.  It begins at birth, and even before birth.

Often, I have encouraged people reading this blog to "refine" their thinking processes.  Exactly, what have I meant by this?  I have meant that the more complexity of thought we can hold in our minds - intellectual and emotional understanding - the more nuanced or refined our thinking processes will be, and the more we are able to alter the world in positive ways because this nuanced thinking is more in tune with emotional and intellectual truths.  More specifically, it means that we can contain what most people think as paradoxical thought as combined thought to a greater understanding, or more refined or nuanced understanding of truth.  This holds true for individuals as well as for ideas.  That is why I can simultaneously understand how teaching children the mechanics of reading early and reading to them and talking to them, goes hand in hand with a mother's "cooing" to her infants as she rocks them.  These forces work together to create a balanced individual.


Thinking in paradoxical thought is what allows me to understand how Thomas Jefferson could have slaves and even have children by his slave mistress of 37 years (his deceased wife's half sister) and still believe fervently in the fact that all are created equal and be against slavery.  Jefferson thought in terms of process, not rigidities.


Moreover, thinking in complexities is what can allow me to encourage a poster to release himself from anger and even hate in order to try to help that poster spiritually, even if I do not agree with his philosophical or political views, and even if I do not like him or her personally. It is possible to try to help someone you do not like, just as it is possible to love your enemies.  Complex thought. Nuanced thought. Refined thought.  We are all better off the deeper we know ourselves and others, and that comes from study, not of math or science, but of human nature and spiritual truths found in literature, the arts, and history.


I hope that most will understand, and benefit from, the cohesion in my thoughts expressed here.



popcornular
popcornular

@MaryElizabethSings

Sounds more like grandiose delusional disorder that anything cohesive. Maybe if you didn't repeat the same thing every single post?

popcornular
popcornular

What concerns me is all the parents that choose the 'make your baby dumber' industry. 

Enoch19
Enoch19

Wise words about intuitive parenting and the excessive fears that so many parents feel.  Good parenting is easier than the experts make it.  He might be right about the connection between screens and ADHD.  That's worth exploring.


I could pass on the dose of "parents are victims".  Not really true.  

Ifollowtherulessoshldyou
Ifollowtherulessoshldyou

As an educator, I often see these children who have been told by their parents that they are exceptional, outstanding, and world class leaders in the making.  Yet in the classroom this same child cannot lead a group presentation, begin a project without having it completely laid out (with answers and expectations), nor can they communicate their needs clearly. But they expect to receive that "A" or trophy, merely because they are breathing.  This generation lacks the fundamental idea that not everyone can win - and when you do win, there will be losers. It is from this setting that greatness in ideas are born.  Not handed to you on a silver platter, trophy given for nothing.


Parents needs to love their children, allow them to make mistakes, help them handle those heart-breaking moments, and teach them to step beyond. Programs such as those mentioned in this article do little to nothing for the young child. Hold them, love them, NURTURE them. That is how they will grow. Not by plopping them in front of a TV to watch a DVD on "learning" and "reading."

Astropig
Astropig

@Ifollowtherulessoshldyou



"But they expect to receive that "A" or trophy, merely because they are breathing. "


Then you will not like the way the world will look in 2030 (thereabouts). That's when a lot of these kids will start making decisions for themselves and enter their professional and public life.Their entitlement mentality bodes ill for that time.

Astropig
Astropig

@Ifollowtherulessoshldyou @Astropig



"sad to say, it will be too late for many of them to learn how to turn it around."


Yes. They will be at the mercy of the kids that have learned that nothing worthwhile is accomplished without lots of effort,accompanied by some self discipline.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

From my point of view in teaching, we have too many parents who follow the "wild weed" theory of child raising.

SV23
SV23

Having both a mother and a father in the home provides a child with an advantage exceeding every other. 

Only in recent times have writers thought it politically incorrect to mention that.

ateacherfirst
ateacherfirst

I have mixed feelings about this concept. In my family,we embrace the potential learning in every experience - but not in a heavy handed way. Rather, we try to show that there is always something to learn and that learning is fun.Not only do the kids love school and do well, but they like to engage in learning activities in their free time as well. I was all for a Lego kit for a niece's birthday. She wanted a dinosaur excavation kit instead. Another niece wanted kids cookware and has become a little chef at 7.


Because we engage with the kids learning daily, we've identified possible issues earlier. One niece was struggling in a new school with their organization system. Once we saw the process - typed instructions but no visuals - we knew the issue. Our girl is a kinesthetic learner.  So, my sister sat down with her with the instructions and demonstrated the process. Her father talked to the teacher about how she learns and things are much better.


The kids in our family constantly test way above grade level - which I saw this summer.  My brother's nieces came down to spend time with their cousins. They are 4 to 8 years older than his kids, yet our terrors out paced them in vocabulary, general knowledge and skills. It upset the 7 year old enough where she asked if their Mommy taught them. She would stop and show them how to do things. I think we have another teacher in training.


Astropig
Astropig

The very best way to bring out the best in your kids is to talk and read with them. They're all different and all have strengths and specializations.They want to know you and you're very lucky that this is so.


That said, this sounds dangerously like its own junk science- "He also discusses in the book whether the rise in children identified with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder could be linked to excessive use of DVDs, videos and computers."



popcornular
popcornular

@MaryElizabethSings 

I think we all agree that it's a nice article. Thank you for reprinting in in the comments. Now we can read it twice.