Video: 'Educational' video games

By Tom Costello Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/2/2004 7:37:58 PM ET 2004-12-03T00:37:58

It’s the latest trend to help parents make their kids smarter — interactive video games, designed and marketed for toddlers. They're selling fast in toy stores and online. But are they truly "educational," as their name implies, or is that phrase nothing more than a mass-marketing tool?

They claim it turns "game time into brain time."

"You'll never get to college if you don't play your video games," says one advertisement for VTech games.

The manufacturers say their new video game is flying off the shelves and putting joy sticks into the hands of toddlers — using Scooby Doo and Winnie the Pooh to help teach colors, shapes, the alphabet and numbers.

"It's a great way for children who learn in different ways to take another approach at learning either their numbers or their letters," says VTech Vice President Julia Fitzgerald.

With bright colors and over-size buttons, the game "V.Smile" is the latest entry in a very competitive toy business.

Each year, Americans spend $10 billion on video games. Now, new games dubbed "educational" are targeting kids as young as 3-years-old.

"And it's appealing to the parent who doesn't want their child to be a couch potato," says the Toy Industry Association's Reyne Rice. "[Parents]want them to be actively involved in what they're doing."

But pediatric psychiatrists don't buy the pitch. Experts continue to warn that toddlers who spend too much time in front of a television can later develop problems focusing and paying attention. They also say that despite the wonders of modern technology, screen time should never be a substitute for that critical, human-to-human face time.

"There is simply no redeeming value whatsoever, absolutely zero, for children in the first three years of life," says Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a child psychiatrist at George Washington University.

Dr. Greenspan says screen time for toddlers can actually be harmful by over-stimulating a child's brain, and not providing the real human interaction children need to develop their reasoning and social skills.

"What I see over and over again is the less interactive time a child has [with their parents], the more problems they have with attention, with impulsivity, with mood control," says Dr. Greenspan.

Based on years of research, Greenspan recommends children under two-and-a-half should have no TV or video game time; for ages two-and-a-half to four no more than half-an-hour a day and for kids older than four just 45 minutes a day.

Still, the makers of "V.Smile" say if a child is going to have TV time…

"It's more appropriate that they use their TV time doing something that's constructive," says VTech's Fitzgerald.

But the issue for parents remains — is that time better spent with their kids?

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