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Video: Troubles mount for ‘Your Baby Can Read’ program

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    >> this morning on "today investigates," new action against the popular reading program , "your baby can read." jeff rossen first looked at the program last fall and he's back with an update. good morning.

    >> good morning. a lot of parents will recognize this and since the investigation aired, "your baby can read" is still advertised on national television, sold in major stores. the company claims if you buy the kit, your baby as young as 3 months old, can learn to read but we learned that's an empty promise.

    >> what you are about to see will amaze you.

    >> which one says "keys."

    >> reporter: the commercials are amazing.

    >> what does this say?

    >> baby!

    >> what about this word?

    >> swing.

    >> good job.

    >> these words say --

    >> touch your ears.

    >> reporter: that's babies sure look like they're reading . if you buy this $200 program, the ads claim your baby can, too.

    >> my daughter began reading by the time she was 8 months old.

    >> reporter: it comes with flash cards , pop-up books and lots of dvds for your kids to watch.

    >> a baby's brain craves stimulation.

    >> reporter: they say it is based on science, that all babies can read.

    >> seize this small window of opportunity before it closes.

    >> reporter: warning that if you miss that window your child will fall behind. but our "today" investigation found no storybookending here. we had experts review the program at harvard. are those babies reading ?

    >> no.

    >> reporter: and tufts.

    >> it's an extraordinary manipulation of facts.

    >> reporter: and nyu.

    >> i think it's misleading, false and i think it raises false expectations.

    >> reporter: in fact, we spoke with ten child development experts from the country's top universities and organizations. the message was universal. this isn't reading . it's memorization and there is no evidence at all that the cards and dvds will teach kids to read or make them better readers later on.

    >> we were just so please that the "today" took this on. it is the first expose we have seen about the product.

    >> reporter: susan is from a national watchdog group that fights against deceptive products for kids. in 2006 it took on the popular program baby einstein leading to marketing changes and full refunds for customers. now lynn's group is going after "your baby can read." they have filed this official complaint with the federal trade commission , calling the program's claims false and misleading, saying it poses significant health and safety risks to infants by getting them hooked on television too young.

    >> we want the ftc to stop your baby can read from false and deceptive marketing and we want your baby can read to offer refundses to the parents who have been duped.

    >> this is not a short-term effect.

    >> reporter: duped, the complaint says, by this man. [ applause ]

    >> reporter: dr. robert titzer, the creator and ceo. he callses himself an infant learning expert. his name and face appear on efg. he agreed to sit down with us for our initial story.

    >> we are changing the way people are looking at reading .

    >> reporter: we have spoken with child development experts from some of the most prestigious universities like harvard, yale, tufts, nyu, cornell, penn and the national association of school psychologists , national center for infants, toddlers and families. they say the program is not only misleading but false.

    >> well, they are all yonge.

    >> reporter: you're saying they are all wrong?

    >> yes. i'm saying they are all wrong.

    >> reporter: he says the program is backed by scientific research . while he acknowledges it all starts as memorization, he says it leads to reading .

    >> we have a book full of studies that support the use of our program. it e's thicker than this.

    >> reporter: can you provide us that research?

    >> yes, i can.

    >> reporter: instead of published research on your baby can read he sent us a customer satisfaction survey conducted by his own company along with general studies about child learning that experts we spoke to said he's twisting and taking out of context. in fact, much of the research he cites for the program --

    >> she started reading words.

    >> reporter: is based on his own daughter.

    >> my children could read better at age 4 than i can at my age.

    >> reporter: you're saying your 4-year-old was a better reader than you as an adult?

    >> that's correct. not only that i was teaching in college at the time and she could read better than my college students.

    >> reporter: okay. experts say the extreme claims target parents who would do anything to make their kids smarter.

    >> it's deceptive and harmful. parents are shelling out all this money for something that is basically snake oil .

    >> reporter: the federal trade commission says it is now reviewing this new complaint. we contacted your baby can read for comment. the company said, we are proud of our accomplishments, thousands of parents have shared the success stories of their children with us and hundreds have sent us videos of their children's progress. meantime, matt, the best way to teach your child to read is free. sing to them, talk to them and when they are ready, 4 or 5 years old, they will learn to read .

    >> if it looks too good to be true, it is. jeff, appreciate it.

updated 4/13/2011 8:11:07 AM ET 2011-04-13T12:11:07

A national watchdog group that campaigned successfully to change the way the popular “Baby Einstein” program markets its product is now trying to get the folks at “Your Baby Can Read” to do the same.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood recently filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that “Your Baby Can Read” uses deceptive marketing to get parents to buy its DVDs, flashcards and other materials.

Last year, an NBC News investigation that aired on TODAY found that child development experts from coast to coast were of the collective opinion that while young children can be made to recognize or memorize words, the brains of most infants and toddlers are just not developed enough to actually learn to read at the level the way the enticing television ads claim they can.

Video: Troubles mount for ‘Your Baby Can Read’ program (on this page)
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"It's deceptive, and it's really harmful. Parents are shelling out all this money for something that is basically snakeoil,” said Susan Linn, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "We were just so pleased that the TODAY show took this on. It's the first expose we've seen about this product."

Linn’s group claims in its FTC complaint that “Your Baby Can Read” is not only false and misleading, the program “poses significant health and safety risks to infants” who are encouraged to sit in front of TVs and computer monitors by parents who hope they can get a headstart on life by teaching their children to read early.

“There’s no evidence that ‘Your Baby Can Read’ is doing anything for babies except potentially harming them by getting them hooked on screens so early in life,” said Linn. “If parents follow the ‘Your Baby Can Read’ instructions, after 9 months, babies would have spent over a full week of 24 hour days in front of a screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under the age of 2. So does the White House task force on childhood obesity.”

What do you think of educational programs for babies?

Linn says parents have been hoodwinked by the product. "We want the FTC to stop "Your Baby Can Read" from false and deceptive marketing, and we want "Your Baby Can Read" to offer refunds to all those parents who have been duped," she said.

The FTC confirmed that they are reviewing the new complaint. Asked for comment, “Your Baby Can Read” told NBC News: “We are proud of our accomplishments … Thousands of parents have shared the success stories of their children with us, and hundreds have sent us videos of their children’s progress.”

Asked last year about those who are of opinion that children cannot really learn to read until they are 4 or 5 years old, the creator of “Your Baby Can Read” dismissed the criticisms.

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“They’re all wrong,” said Dr. Robert Titzer, who calls himself an infant learning expert but actually holds a graduate degree in “human performance” — the study of motor skills.

Titzer told TODAY at the time that his program is backed by scientific research. He acknowledged that it starts with memorization, but insisted it leads to reading.

“The baby does learn to read,” he said. “My children could read better at age 4 than I could at age, you know, at my age.”

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s fight against “Baby Einstein” brought customer refunds and changes in how that product is marketed in 2006. It is still on the market, however.

Related: Preschoolers watching WAY too much TV

The FTC closed its investigation in 2007 without recommending any enforcement action. The agency noted at the time that “Baby Einstein” had voluntarily revised its claims and that there were no conclusive scientific studies about the effects of watching too much television on infants or toddlers.

Where does that leave parents? Experts say the best way to teach your baby to read is free: Read to them, sign to them and expose them to language. And when they are ready, they’ll read.

For more information on the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and how to file a complaint, go to www.commercialfreechildhood.org. For more info from the FTC, click here.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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