Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy birthday!

Today my son is one year old. In honor of his birthday, I thought I would write an entry about the pseudoscientific bunk that is Baby Einstein. President Bush lauded the creator of this company in his 2007 State of the Union speech as a "talented business entrepreneur". Of this I have no doubt. She's also a talented scam artist.

Those of you who don't have small children probably aren't aware of the crazy popularity of Baby Einstein products (I certainly wasn't until after my son was born). 1 in 3 American babies have watched a Baby Einstein video. These videos purport to teach babies valuable skills and concepts. Take one of their products, for instance:

Baby Mozart Music Festival is a musical festival for little eyes and ears. Given top ratings by moms worldwide, this title is a captivating experience that exposes babies and toddlers to the splendor and delight of classical music while mesmerizing them with stimulating, colorful images.

I have no doubt that it mesmerizes babies. My son is mesmerized any time he sees a TV screen that is on, regardless of the content. And implicit in the name Baby Einstein is the suggestion that using these products will make your child smarter. Is this true? According to Harvard psychologist Susan Linn:
"Essentially, the baby video industry is a scam. There's no evidence that the videos are educational for babies, and a review of the research on babies and videos concludes that while older babies can imitate simple actions from a video they've seen several times, they learn much more rapidly from real life,"
Wow. And the company knows this. They even use a few weasel words on their website to cover their butts from lawsuits:

The Baby Einstein Company is aware of the ongoing discussions regarding children and television viewing, particularly as it pertains to infants under the age of two years old. And, while we respect the American Academy of Pediatrics, we do not believe that their recommendation of no television for children under the age of two reflects the reality of today’s parents, families and households – for example, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 68% of all babies under two years old watch screen media on any given day. The Baby Einstein Company believes that when used appropriately, television can be a useful learning tool that parents and little ones can enjoy together.

Enjoying together, right? Yet many of the testimonials on their own website read like many parents are using these videos as a babysitter so that they can have some free time. Granted, I often feel like I could use some free time. My wife and I outnumber our son two to one, and we still feel like we're barely able to keep things under control. But to be pretending that your product is educational seems dirty, when not only is it not educational, it's probably less educational than having your baby bang pots and pans while you make dinner. And expensive, too.

I want the best for my son. I want him to be smart, and well-educated and have the chance to do whatever he is most fascinated with when he is an adult. I think there are very few parents that feel differently. That said, these products are a crass attempt to turn the fears of parents into cash, and I deeply resent that.


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