Disney is offering a refund to buyers of its ubiquitous “Baby Einstein” videos, which did not, as promised, turn babies into wunderkinds. Apparently, all those puppets, bright colors, and songs were what we had feared all along—a mind-numbing way to occupy infants.
This news has rocked the parenting world, which had embraced the videos as a miraculous child-rearing staple. Videos that make your kid smarter while you prepare dinner? Genius!
Or not. According to the article, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two years old stay away from watching screens. In the letter threatening Disney with a class-action lawsuit for "deceptive advertising," public health lawyers hired by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood cited a study which found a link between early television exposure and later problems with attention span.
Disney’s refund is about as close as we’re going to get to an actual admission that we were sold snake oil, and it casts a pall over the other "educational" toys out there.
It should be noted that, although Disney is offering refunds, it is not admitting the Einstein videos are ineffective:
Instead, the company believes that consumers find value in the product. They said a money-back guarantee is actually their standard policy.
Right. It's their "standard policy"… only after getting slapped with a class-action lawsuit.
Disney has also toned down its claims regarding Baby Einstein since the lawsuit came out.
I'm no child psychologist (although I took a few classes), but it seems to me that for particularly young ages, these Baby Einstein videos probably are entertaining and not very educational. Although they might touch on educational subjects, I don't think the subject matter is going to "sink in" with your poopy-diapered infants. It's the equivalent of sleeping with your geometry book under your pillow, except that it has cute music and puppets. Apparently, many smarter people than me have come to that same conclusion.
See for youself — this is "Baby Galileo Discovering The Sky" from the Baby Einstein series:
Again, this strikes me as eye candy, nothing more.
And, as Heather points out, there's an inherent danger in merely propping your baby in front of a video screen at the expense of human interaction — a problem which goes beyond just the Baby Einstein brand of videos. So the bottom line, I suppose: while videos might keep your little one occupied for a while, it's not a substitute for actual parenting. And overdoing it can actually hurt your child developmentally.
None of this, of course, applies to the videos of Dan Zanes (also marketed by Disney, I believe), who was a childhood friend of mine back in Concord New Hampshire: