Does a baby need to be able to read by the time they’re 3 months old to be successful? That’s the shocking mindset of a growing number of super competitive parents who are training their children to read, literally as soon as they’re born. They believe it’s a way to put their kids on the fast track to success.

The trend is so big that a cottage industry has popped up with scores of classes, videos, and websites that let you download flash cards and tutorials to teach your baby to read. In fact, Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger recently created a website called ReadingBear.com with tutorials that he claimed help his son learn to read before age two.

So, can babies really read – and does it actually make them smarter? The answers are mixed.

Supporters point to one 10-year study that found that children who can read by the time they’re 5 are more academically successful at age 16 than their peers – no matter what their IQ is.

But critics warn the ‘speed to read’ trend could derail kids. Dr. David Elkind is the author of “The Power of Play.” And he says that you can’t speed up a baby’s natural brain development no matter how many study sessions you cram in. In fact, studies show that most children don’t understand new words until they’re 4 years old, because reading involves so many complex skills that take years to develop like motor, visual and cognitive skills.

And a lot of babies and toddlers who “read” are actually just memorizing words and stories that they’ve heard countless times before. And even if young children CAN read on command, they usually don’t understand a single word they’re saying – and there’s zero benefit in that.

Dr. Elkind also warns that pushing babies and toddlers to read too early can backfire. That’s because the whole process can be extremely stressful and they may automatically associate anything new or difficult as stressful - and they won’t want to try it. Like riding a bike or making friends.