Froot Loops are not part of a nutritious breakfast. Moisturizer will not make your skin look and act younger. And watching videos will not make your kids smarter. They will entertain them, amuse them, and maybe even inform them-and personally, I’d argue that that’s enough. But some parents (and their lawyers), disagree, claiming to have plunked the wee ones down for hours a day in front of Baby Einstein DVDs in a misguided effort at brain stimulation. And those parents, with the help of The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, have prevailed. If you’ve purchased a Baby Einstein video or DVD since June of 2004, Disney will give you a refund (or a “satisfaction upgrade”). As one of the beneficiaries of this great and glorious victory, I’d just like to say: Don’t you people have anything better to do?
The debate about whether very young children (under 3) should watch any television at all has raged long and loud over the past decade. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend it, based on studies linking increased TV-watching with various attention disorders . The anti-Baby-Einstein team points to a study finding that babies who watched the videos for an hour or more a day knew fewer words, but, like most other studies involving kids and television, the researchers didn’t (or couldn’t) take into account the other differences in environment which may accompany that screen time. Meanwhile, most parents are just trying to shower in peace, and welcomed the advent of Baby Einstein and its ilk not so much for any affirmative benefit, but because they felt and sounded like the video equivalent of watching a fan go around.
The target market for this particular product consists largely of parents who should be savvy enough to understand its limitations. I got my money’s worth out of those videos, which didn’t replace time I would have spent ” getting down on the floor to play ,” but time that would have spent watching some other form of video-or, if I’d been a television purist, parked in a crib, playpen, or bouncy chair screaming angrily, because none of my kids self-entertained particularly well when they were young, and certainly not at the moments when I really needed them to. I had no greater expectations than a few minutes of down time, and I find it hard to believe anyone else did, either. If Disney would like to make reparations for its sins of omission and commission in the marketing of the videos, I’d invite them to send my $15.99 to the Children’s Literary Foundation . We’ll keep the DVDs-because they’re fun to watch.