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Dear Disney: You didn't make my baby into Einstein

I should have known better; after all, I myself graduated from a couple of rigorous post-high school academic programs. But still, I bought the concept (literally and figuratively) that the Baby Einstein series of DVDs would provide my first son a richer babyhood. I never really thought he'd be made into a certified genius by watching DVDs, but I did think he'd at least pick up some minor smarts from exposure to this heady stuff.

The 'Language Nursery' one had me most enchanted; until I started watching it and wondered, how is this going to teach my baby languages, again? The video consisted mostly of just throwing words and nursery songs at kids without any accompanying explanation. "Frère Jacques," for instance, was accompanied by video of little hands playing with bright-colored toys (now I wonder, darkly, if they were painted with lead-based paint). I could neither understand nor participate; there was no translation, not even a rundown of the lyrics of the lullabies sung in other languages. Later I'd read that there was no worse way to teach children languages than to expose them utterly without context.

We sold our Baby Einstein DVDs on eBay before my second baby was born, and later we learned that, indeed, Baby Einstein videos were not only based on zero infant developmental science but were proven not to make one smarter. The AAP came out with a recommendation that children under two not be exposed to television or DVDs at all. This weekend, the news was even more thundering: after being threatened with a class action lawsuit for false and deceptive advertising (to the most impressionable and defenseless consumers of all, I'd add: new parents), Disney agreed to refund consumers' money for their purchases, should they want it back, $15.99 for up to four Baby Einstein DVDs per household, bought between June 5, 2004, and Sept. 5, 2009, and returned to the company.

That won't provide any monetary help for me... my videos were purchased before June 2004. But that's not really my biggest concern; it's that millions were made deceiving parents about what's good for their babies. "Fostering parent-child interaction always has and always will come first at The Baby Einstein Company, and we know that there is an ongoing discussion about how that interaction is best promoted," said a Disney spokesperson. No, there's no such discussion. We all know now that having a baby watch other babies play with other parents on a screen doesn't teach him or her anything. Actually playing with your baby... interacting on his level sans screentime... is the best way to promote interaction. And it doesn't require a single Disney product, or Mattel, or Hasbro, or Melissa & Doug, or even the super-natural Waldorf toy companies like Maine Toys.

I'd certainly be ill-advised to judge anyone for using so-called "educational" shows to occupy my young children when I'm losing it. A sane mom with kids in front of the TV is probably better than a shouting, hair-tearing mom without a screen in sight. But this whole story provides a lens into the enormous industry of selling intelligence to new parents. With brand names like IQ Baby and Baby Scholars and Neurosmith, it doesn't take a genius to understand how we're being subtly manipulated to feel this will actually separate the eventual results of our children's IQ tests.

It's good to know that baby play is the great economic equalizer: no parent, given the most vast amount of resources imaginable, has a leg up over another parent unless the amount of time he or she can devote to the baby is greater. (I know: this isn't always true given the paucity of maternity leave in our country and the frequent economic necessity of mom working.) But it's important to underscore that, given two at-home parents, one with barely enough money to keep the lights on and the fridge stocked, the other with plentiful disposable income and the entire Baby Einstein oeuvre, both are entirely equally equipped to make their babies smart.

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We don't have a television, nor do we let our children watch the computer, or go to movies. That said, I don't judge families who use them, we all do what we need to do to get by, and your point resonates, it's better than screaming. I don't have a problem with families using television. However, I do have a problem with families blaming Disney as it seems you are doing. Are you surprised that McDonald's is unhealthy? Do you think giant mega corporations, yes, even Disney have you and your baby's best interests in mind? My own intelligence and instinct told me that plopping a baby down in front of a tv to flood their senses with color and noise with the expectation of making my baby more intellectually advanced is preposterous, the very notion of rushing or advancing my or any child was and is completely counter intuitive to me. My sense tells me that Disney is not in the education field, or the parenting field. Disney is the making money no matter what field. I realized long before I was pregnant that I should not expect or want Disney to protect or nurture or teach my child. And, when I am at a loss for what to do I turn to advisable sources for advice, individuals who work within the education or medical field, maybe they have a Dr. or Ph.D in their name, not a TM

no. I'm not blaming Disney for "tricking" me... and I know they don't have my best interests in mind. I just think it's ridiculous. and, for lots of people, it works and continues to do so.

We bought our Baby Einstein VHS videos in 2001, just about the same time the founder, Julie Agner Clark sold the enterprise to Disney for millions. I remember reading about the sale and thinking that something wastn't right when a product so banal would make a person a multi-millionaire. Later she was praised by GWB in a State of the Union address. Weird.

I didn't read the post as cafemama trying to blame Disney. The end point seems to be that - even though there may be a place for DVDs in our households - it ultimately comes down to mamas & papas spending time with their little ones. A family spending money on intelligent-sounding products won't produce a smarter baby.

We bought the entire slew of Baby Einstein videos when our daughter was born in 2000. She loved many of them and watched them every evening from the time she was just months old until she was probably close to 3. Back then, we were living ridiculously busy lives, earning very little, working really hard, coming home pretty late. Those videos were life-saving and gave us 30 minutes of time to regroup at the day's end.

By the time our second daughter was born in 2003, we bought the latest & greatest in the Baby Einstein series and it clearly seemed the product had changed. It was glitzy and digitized (the Disney factor) and seemed to be less appealing to the kids. It was not totally intentional, but we ended up kicking the Baby E habit soon thereafter. The kids just weren't into it anymore.

Nowadays, the kids get no screen time during the week (computer included) and probably have an hour every other week or even less. As cafemama suggests, it's all about the family QT and not about the screen time.

I think the Baby E series started out as an interesting concept, but Disney took it to the Nth degree.

Where is the "like" button on this site?

We have baby Einstein Dvds and no, never once did I actually think my kids would become smarter because of them.

They are just a way to cook dinner, take a shower..etc without having the toddler and 7 month old underfoot & entertained.
For all of history humans have lived in extended families and the raising of children was not the sole responsibility of a lone mother and father. Only in the last few generations have we lived as a nuclear families and only in the last few decades have we lived in a world where both parents work. You can see how Baby Einstein might fit into the picture. Old Aunt Einstein is there to entertain the 2 year old for 10 minutes while mommy rocks the baby to sleep.

I never thought Baby Einstein would make my kids smarter. Having said that I never taught my daughter sign language, but she does know some signs because of baby Einstein. I remember once reading that TV is the least effective method of teaching (as opposed to lectures, reading etc.) It is still a method of learning nonetheless (documentaries etc.) OF COURSE it is not as effective as one on one time with mommy or daddy.
But I have to agree with anon and her McDonald's analogy. Like, DUH, like who really thought that this was going to make our kids smarter? I think the whole class action lawsuit is ridiculous and being that people are being reimbursed with coupons to buy MORE baby Einstein stuff, it's timed a little too perfect for the holiday shopping rush.

But I have had numerous conversations with parents who specifically bought those DVDs and others like them because the marketing led them to believe that these dvds would give their children more and better exposure to concepts and ideas than the parents could. Several of these conversations were with people who did not finish high school, or who were not native English speakers. So, I think the marketing preys on people who have less self-confidence in their intellect, and therefore feel that a video would be a better educator than themselves, the parents.

I, myself, decided to take the attitude that TV is just entertainment, pure and simple. Therefore, I don't specifically try to choose things for my son (2.5 yrs) that are necessarily educational. So, he gets to watch 10-15 minutes of some movie (his current favorites are "Miles and Otis," "Aristocats," and "Bob the Builder.") while I put his baby sister down for a nap.

I believe it was in Freakonomics that the real measure of how smart your kids would turn out had to do with how many books you have in your house. Not reading to your kids, but owning books. The mere presence of books in the home means that the parents place high value on books. In the end, it is about who a parent *is* rather than what they *do*.

Watching TV is not an indication of who you are, just something you do.

That said, I despise Baby Einstein and am thrilled with this news. Remember when the founder stood up at Bush's State of the Union as an example of an entrepreneur? There was a ton of backlash against the videos then because, as cafemama points out, doctors say NO TV before the age of 2 is best.

I think this post is getting at the issue of advertising to parents....especially first time parents. You are new at this. You want to do what is right. Maybe you don't have the benefit of time and resources to do research on what children really need. Maybe you weren't raised to question advertiser's claims. Maybe you were raised by the TV (I was!) and you figure you turned out okay. So you listen and you follow, believing you are doing right for your child.

I was walking my dog at the dog park and a new grandma mentioned she'd bought some light-up, make-noise alphabet toy for her grandkid. "So at least she'll be learning while she's playing...." (I'm not sure what's wrong with kids just playing....but that's another topic altogether). Anyways, point is she didn't know too much about it and figured she was doing the right thing.

That's what really irked me about Baby Einstein. Ever watch those "Play Laugh Grow" commercials these days? The light-up, make-noise claim is "Teaches cause and effect". Well so does knocking a spoon off a table. Advertisers really go out of their way to state the benefits (or make up the benefits) of the toy -- and if you don't have the strength, time, or clarity of mind to really listen, you might just buy in to it.

So good. Baby Einstein has been revealed for what it is. Now....Let's start working on the next big offender.....um Diet Coke Plus anyone?

Baby Einstein worked wonders for this kid;O)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vT27q5_vJEU

I've never seen the videos, but the toys and books I saw by Baby Einstein had little enough meaning that I was never interested.

After having very limited TV viewing myself for years (not owning one), and observations of others and their TV viewing, I began to wonder about the effects of TV. I read an article in Scientific American called "TV Addiction, No Mere Metaphor" and was pretty horrified. Between that information and several years of meditation experience, I could clearly see how TV watching has physiological effects on the brain, actually retraining how the brain works; but not in a good way, like people are looking for with Baby Einstein products. It's things like shortening attention span, hooking the brain into refocusing every 10-30 seconds by flashing to another shot, and creating a passive state in the viewer (simply feeding signals, rather than leaving room for stimulating thought). It also has an emotional effect according to the article and study; people feel more depressed after watching TV. I can't imagine much worse things to do for a brain/mind forming at the rate of a baby/child (obvioiusly besides neglect, abuse, etc). I don't think parents take the no tv before 2 and limited tv after, seriously enough, and think about the implications of TV in general.

I became pretty adamant that although I wouldn't ban TV in my family, I'd vigorously redirect and hope that family members are simply too bored by TV to watch it much. It worked for me, who used to not see anything wrong with TV and (now I regret) watched as much as I could as a teenager (wish I'd been playing chess, piano and volleyball instead, though at least I've always been an avid reader).

I know conscientious parents who use TV to get their kids to a passive state. We've done this (with ipod) on the airplane and in restaurants, but not at home. I've just found that my 3 yr old son is just as happy puttering around. If he asks for me to play with him and I'm busy with chores/dinner, I come over and do a little bit with him and then go back to my work (this also teaches him patience when I have to finish something). If he is cranky and we need that passive state, actually sitting down with him and reading a book or two has a magical calming effect. I bought an Elmo potty training video hoping he could learn from that, but was heartsick when I saw him emotionally attaching to the characters (even though I find Sesame St. great, I just think he's too young) rather than learning the potty lessons.

As far as intellectual development, well he gets a lot of that at daycare, for one thing. While with us, I tuned into that at his age, he is getting the best development from physically doing things and experiencing them, putting the obervation into a pattern or idea, and then building on it. Basically the scientific method. I stopped doing things like alphabet and number teaching, because though he could memorize them, those had no concepts behind them for where he's at in his development. I.e. he needs to see a pile of things grow larger, and understand adding and subtracting from it, before numbers have any meaning. I wish he would do a little more artwork and crafts, I think those are also great brain builders, so that's a goal for us. I try to veer away from toys that don't leave room for the kid to figure things out and think creatively.

I never really got the idea that I would be giving my child a "foot up" by showing her the Baby Einstein videos. She was just not that into them. I know kids who would zombie out at the sight of them. I did find, however, that I learned a great deal from listening to the BE CD's in the car when my daughter was an infant and toddler! I began to recognize tunes played by the Music Box Orchestra (LOVE those guys!) and then be able to point out who the composer was when I would hear the same tune on Classical Radio! I think my daughter can pick those out too. It's good stuff. I'm not sure if the whole shebang is owned by Disney, but we certainly did become more "cultural" listening to the classics.

BTW, I remember watching the little blurbs with the company founder at the end of the videos and thinking there was something a little bit off about her message. While she is speaking, they are showing kids and parents interacting while watching a video, and I thought that it was completely a contrived idea. Who plays with BE puppets with their kids when watching the videos? But I did find some entertainment value from the videos briefly. I will not be returning mine for money, I think I have passed them on. I once heard someone say that BE actually "dumbed down" kids, referring to an article she read (shortly after I had given her kid a BE DVD for his birthday) and I think that is even more insane than claiming that it smartens them up! C'mon people! It's a diversion!

Hi – I have decided to give our audio language CDs to anyone who is unhappy with the Baby Einstein CDs (up to 50 sets). Our site is at http://www.akilo.com – you can listen to a sample there. Every CD contains 25 languages. If you would like a free set just tell me where to send them -- for this please use this email (instead of our normal one) -- akilo98@fastmail.us

Best regards,

Frank Hodgson
The Snow Water Corporation
akilo.com – akilo4@bluebottle.com
(800) 872-5244

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