Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Want your baby to learn? Turn off the TV!

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Today’s guest post comes from 4C Board Chair Davida Gable.

In the late 1990’s, Julie Aigner-Clark founded The Baby Einstein Company which sold videos of babies playing with toys with classical music in the background.  These “educational” videos were marketed to parents as a way to safely educate their babies during the most critical period of their lives for brain development.

Every living adult in the United States knows a video in a TV buys precious time when in the company of children.  Who wouldn’t love a video that makes her normal baby a Baby Einstein, too?  In 2003, 33% of American babies aged six months to two years had a Baby Einstein video.  In fact, a 2005 study showed that 49% of parents believed educational videos were important for intellectual development.

Ms. Aigner-Clark eventually sat next to Laura Bush in President George W. Bush’s 2007 “State of the Union” address.  The President even lauded her achievements and noted, “Julie represents the great enterprising spirit of America.”  By the end of the decade, The Baby Einstein Company was valued at approximately $400 million.  The Disney Company purchased Baby Einstein, making Julie Aigner-Clark a millionaire several times over.

Shortly after our daughter was born, I eagerly brought out the padding and videos that would give me freedom to pursue my dreams.  I laid my squirming daughter on a pillow and maniacally shredded the plastic wrap from the Baby Einstein DVD case, delighting at the prospect of making my daughter an intellectual genius while I continued to conquer the world.  As my infant daughter paused her fist-sucking to curiously study my palpable excitement, I popped in the video to see…drumroll please…a baby playing with a toy!

OK, there was classical music in the background, too.  But my heart sank as I reluctantly realized that it would be better if I simply turned on the classical FM radio station and brought my daughter a toy.  She’d probably like it if I talked to her, too.  Maybe even held her for a while.

I wasn’t the only one who felt duped.  At the same time parents were sacrificing their hard-earned dollars on videos, falsely hoping and believing that they would enhance their babies’ intellectual growth, only 6% of parents were aware of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s recommendation that children under the age of two should not be exposed to any TV or videos… including Baby Einstein.

Under Disney’s leadership, Baby Einstein ceded to pressure from “false advertising” charges and continued criticism from child experts.  It offer refunds for videos purchased between 2004 and 2009.

During this period, Julie Aigner-Clark received praise and adulation for being an entrepreneurial mommy.  Meanwhile, I was feeling like an old-fashioned scold expressing skepticism about videos that could make my average child a genius.  Not only did my skepticism appear as a lack of support for desperate parents – but it also undermined my own personal goal to be part of the “great enterprising spirit of America.”  If I spent time playing, holding and talking to my baby, how would I ever start my own company or win awards?

I finally realized the truth.  Videos would not make my baby a “Baby Einstein.”  The TV station Nick Jr. really is not “The Smart Place to Play.”  When it aired its original slogan, “It’s Like Preschool on TV,” my wise caregiving friends and I would quickly respond, “Except it’s NOT!”

Believing that videos will provide intellectual development is an extension of our earlier flawed learning that taking care of babies is like taking care of an egg. Quality early childcare takes attention, time and effort, with “measurable results” possibly not revealing themselves for years.  It’s not easy, and it’s difficult to make efficient.

4C for Children knows this.  Even better, 4C for Children understands the pressures of caregiving.  They understand the pressures so well that they even appreciate why we use the TV and videos when we’re trying to prepare dinner or brush our teeth.  They know that parents don’t need false promises from heavily marketed products…and they don’t need the high pressure expectations of perfectionism either.  Parents and caregivers need support.  4C is here to provide support.

2 thoughts on “Want your baby to learn? Turn off the TV!

  1. Reblogged this on Year 'Round Thanksgiving Project and commented:
    Talk to your babies/children – Read to them – Turn off the television