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.