It took just a few hours of watching CNN while cradling his colicky son to make Dr. Dimitri Christakis suspect parents should severely limit the time infants watch TV.

And now he hopes 25 years worth of research will finally prove it.

In one of the most extensive reviews of its kind, the Seattle pediatrician says infant-aimed DVDs such as Baby Einstein, and even award-winning kids’ shows like Sesame Street, can do more harm than good to children under the age of two.

In fact, the sensory overload of all those colours, sounds and sights — be it Big Bird or Baby Mozart — may be at least partly to blame for the tenfold increase in cases of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the past 20 years. It now affects between five and 20 per cent of American children.

He even accepts some of the blame. He believes scientists such as him have helped create the trend.

“There is now an obsession with having smart kids,” Christakis said in a telephone interview.
“I think we scientists have managed to convince people, rightly, that these early years are really important. But the problem is we’ve created a neurosis around optimizing them and that’s spawned industries that essentially now prey on people’s obsession and fear.”

In 1971, the average age that children started watching TV was four years old. Now, it’s four to five months, he says.

The statistics
Nine out of 10 children under the age of two watch TV regularly – some spend up to 40 per cent of the daytime in front of the tube – “despite ongoing warnings” from the American Academy of Pediatrics that they shouldn’t.