Child Behavior: "Healthy" stimulation programs might be placebo

The best influence on your child isn't technology, it's you

It is an understatement to say we live in a computer age. This is a time when children are more technologically savvy and capable than their parents. I’m not embarrassed to say that my 10-year-old can easily outperform me on the family computer.     


Technology is everywhere, and every parent wants their child to benefit from every computer program available. Trying to give a child an intellectual edge seems to begin earlier and earlier.


Millions each year are spent on software programs for young children. A big chunk of this is spent on “lapware”, computer programs for infants and toddlers. Many professionals feel that these laptop computer programs don’t provide infants and young children with the physical activity and active exploratory manipulation that is essential for healthy sensorimotor and cognitive development. There is also some compelling evidence suggesting that they may be detrimental to intellectual growth by limiting a child’s real outlets for early stimulation and growth.

What about the highly publicized “Mozart Effect”? There have been some initial studies stating that listening to Mozart’s music when young will enhance intellectual ability. There have also been numerous studies suggesting that there is NO Mozart Effect. The media along with large scale marketing efforts have often made unsubstantiated claims and developed a cottage industry promoting various Mozart Effect products. These manufacturers claim that intellectual enhancement will occur if your child listens to their packaged material.


Adding a little Mozart to your child’s day, which may enhance your child’s appreciation of music and can also be soothing, is not the issue at hand. Rather, many parents see these early stimulation programs as a panacea for their children, at the exclusion of more time tested and proven intellectually stimulating activities. More research is needed with regard to “packaged” intellectually stimulating programs before the examples offered below are abandoned.

Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College. He is available for speaking engagements to parent groups.