Many of you must have heard by now about the big kerfuffle regarding Disney's offer to compensate parents' for the price of their Baby Einstein DVDs. Turns out that the claims made on these products were WRONG. The claims I'm primarily talking about, of course, is that these videos are "educational" or "help cognitive development" or "Help your baby learn language." Oops, that last one is really, really wrong. Not just wrong, but the precise opposite seems to be the case. In a study that came out originally a couple of years ago, researchers from the University of Washington found that for every extra hour of DVDs or videos that babies watched (specifically, 8 – 16 month olds), they learned 6-8 words LESS than kids who were not watching. I find the age-span particularly interesting, since that period is JUST BEFORE the stage that the vast majority of children get a HUGE spurt in language development at around 18-21 months. A recent study out of Thailand also found that early (before 12 months of age) intense t.v. exposure (defined as 2 hours or more per day) was associated with a six-fold increase in the probability of language delays.
I have two main responses to the whole Baby Einstein thing. The first goes something like: The bastards SHOULD pay. There has NEVER been any research to back up the "educational" claims made by Baby Einstein inc. and all the videos associated with the brand. And there have been plenty of studies that have, for years, debunked myths like playing (Baby) Mozart to your child (in or out of the womb) has anything to do with the development of intellect,musicality, etc. (links to come, I can't find them now). I can kind of deal with every leggo box having a blurb on its packaging about "promoting fine-motor skills" and every wooden castle "enhancing children's imagination skills." These are sort of no-brainers (pun intended) without as much baggage associated with the claims. But what gets me all fired up is the massive industry that's been built up to prey on parents' fears, particularly the fear of not providing enough for their children's intellectual growth. The sales of videos geared at children under the age of two are estimated at over a BILLION dollars. Check out the Kaiser Family Foundation report for many more details. I remember the guy who painted our house 2 years ago urging me to start playing these Baby Einstein videos for my boys otherwise they'll fall behind and not be ready for school — he was seriously and sweetly concerned for my boys and their clueless mother. Then I went and looked at one of the videos and did a bit of my own research and proceeded to be HORRIFIED by the subtle and not-so-subtle marketing ploys made by these DVD companies (it's not JUST Baby Einstein, they're just the most popular). But my painter was not alone in his concerns: In that same Kaiser report (which is way out of date by now, given it was published in 2003), 27 percent of young children were found to own Baby Einstein videos and 49 percent of parents thought that educational videos were “very important” in the intellectual development of children.
Let me put it as clearly as possible: Scientific evidence strongly suggests that children learn language better from native speakers in person or even from audiotapes (or whatever the cool kids are calling audiofiles and such lately) compared to learning from screens (TV or computers). For a review of these findings (and a very clear description of the state of the science in this area), just google this fellow's name: Dimitri A Christakis and the year 2009. There's a PDF document of his review article that I can't link to, but it's available for free for anyone who wants it.
So, yeah, in sum, I think Disney and that self-promoting, money-grubbing founder of Baby Einstein should pay back all the parents they lied to. It may be a tad harsh, but I think setting a precedent that stipulates that toy companies and media developers need to back up their claims with REAL SCIENCE (or just SHUT UP about any scientific claims) is a good precedent to set.
But I said I had two main responses and here's my (blessedly more brief) second point: Baby Einstein videos are well-designed attention-catchers (albeit VERY creepy, IMO) that can save a parent's sanity. I don't think they're evil, I just don't think they teach language or anything else particularly valuable for that matter. But they DO entertain babies. And there are so FEW things that entertain babies for more than .003 seconds. If your baby loves these DVDs (and not all babies do, btw), I'd say use them in moderation without fear of screwing up your child. If I had had one of these DVDs when I had my infant twins, it may have allowed me to, oh… I don't know, maybe SHOWER more than once per week. So many of us know that feeling of having a needy infant and desperately needing to pee, cook dinner, brush our teeth, put a load of laundry in, answer the phone, engage our older son/daughter in some playful game without the baby interfering, or just stare out the window for 5 min of uninterrupted peace. Seriously… if a DVD can give us that little bit of time we need to take care of ourselves or the gazillion things we need to do around the house, I am ALL for it. OF COURSE it's important to limit the viewing time (most babies won't sit still for more than 15 min or so anyway) and OF COURSE we should continue to do lots of cooing and gooing and talking and cuddling and singing with our babies throughout the day. It's not a good idea to use these DVDs in place of quality time spent face-to-face with parents and other loved ones… but once in a while, for mom's sake, I wouldn't fret too much over it. Since Disney's taking it on the chin anyway over all this "false advertising," maybe I should suggest to them a change in the name from Baby Einstein to Baby Hypnotics or Mama Valium (ok, shutting up now, we already know how bad at funny I am).
So… what do you think about Baby Einstein? Have you played them for your baby? Were you suprised by the "quasi-recall"?