March 4, 2009

Harvard Study As Close To Harvard As Baby Einstein's Gonna Get

A Harvard Medical School study of almost 900 kids ages 0-3 found that watching television and baby-targeted DVDs did not, in fact, promote learning or brain development. Even though 6 mo kids in the study were averaging nearly an hour/day of TV time--the average climbed to 1.4 hrs/day by age 2--the box gave these littlest zombies no developmental benefit at all.

So you might think that a company like Baby Einstein, which spawned an entire educational baby video industry with their claims about synaptic enhancement and brain stimulation and early language and cultural literacy and whatnot, would be upset about a Harvard study that proves they were totally just making that shit up.

And clearly, you got your marketing degree from a state school. Just like the pitches about promoting screen & computer literacy and about facilitating quality interactive time, the amorphous intellectual benefits promised by Baby Einstein & co. are only meant to help "make parents not feel guilty about an electronic baby sitter," as the study's co-author Dr. Michael Rich put it.

Doctors, researchers, and activists have undermined nearly 15 years of Baby Einstein's "glass half full, gotta fill your kid's mental glass!" marketing, but that's ok! Because the glass half empty approach works fine, too! Or as Baby Einstein GM Susan McLain put it to CNN, Harvard has proved that ""screen time is not harmful for baby and infants."

Study: Want a smart baby? TV's not going to help [cnn via dt reader jj daddy-o]

Disclosure: I used to work for Baby Einstein's parent company, Disney.

13 Comments

It gets harder as they get older, but we have a strict no-screen policy Mon through Fri. It makes a world of difference in the kids' concentration, attitude and behavior.

I have never thought that Baby Einstein or any other baby video would make my kid smarter. I do know that they enjoy the images, it helps to relieve boredom from time to time and I can cook some dinner while they are watching a video. I don't know a single parent that thinks their baby would be more intelligent by watching a show. We are too busy being parents to pay attention to Baby Einstein marketing. Our videos were gifts or hand me downs.

I guess that's just a sign of your sophisticated, informed approach to parenting. Baby Einstein will be glad to know that they can stop paying millions of licensing dollars each year to the Einstein estate to evoke the idea of academic genius.

Meanwhile, while you were busy parenting, your less-savvy friends and relatives chose Baby Einstein because the company has worked to build its "TV that's good for kids!" image on meaningless testimonials and bogus scientific claims.

Still, as I'm sure BE will remind us soon, "Harvard says 'No harm done!'"

"My hope is that when this information is made available to the general public, that it won't be perceived as study that means there are no harmful effects of TV viewing on infants, because other studies have shown TV viewing at high levels can put kids at risk for some things like obesity, sleep disturbances and possibly attention problems," Schmidt said.

BE is already working hard to spin exactly that perception, I guess... I don't think Harvard has a marketing department to combat the baby video industrial complex so we'll probably see lots of out-of-context quotes from the study being used by the video companies to promote their products.

I hope they follow the kids from this study long-term; it'd be interesting to see if there's an uptick in ADHD diagnosis in the video-watching kids once they get to school...

I am so tired of parents using the excuse that they HAVE to plop their kids in front of a tv to get stuff done. If you want to let your kid watch tv, fine, but don't say it's because it's the only way you can complete tasks. Our child has watched 2 episodes of Sesame Street (once when we had the stomach flu and once when she was really sick) and a Muppets Christmas special and that's the only tv she's actually sat down and watched in her life (tvs are of course on at every restaurant and store, so she is subjected to them a lot). Lots of cleaning, dinners, laundry, etc. has gotten done in the 3 years since she was born and I haven't needed to plop her in front of a tv to get it done.
Let's call a spade a spade; it's electronic babysitting. I'm not saying I'm a better parent, just that there are ways of keeping your kid entertained other than television. I'm also not saying that I think tv is bad, especially if you watch it with your child. But TV is not a necessary distraction for parenting and I'm tired of it being treated as such.

true true, but if researchers want our nation of TV addicts to cut back they'll have to craft a scarier warning than "high levels can put kids at risk for possible attention problems" oh no!!

Hey, lay off the state schools! University of Washington researchers reported similar findings in 2007-- although they went farther, showing evidence that TV and DVDs were actually slowing childrens' language development:

http://www.washington.edu/alumni/uwnewslinks/200709/videos.html

To paraphrase the great philosopher Bart Simpson: I am familiar with the work of Dr. Dimitri Christakis.

He should probably have his own tag on DT by now, in fact.

Gee, I don't know, Julie, some kids are higher-maintenance than yours, and lots of moms have to deal with three at a time while trying to get dinner prepped and on the stove. In some ways you are tooting your own horn.

Gee, I don't know, Jennifer. When I grew up in the 70s (Europe), there were no TV's at all! Kids back then were taught and encouraged to be on their own and PLAY during the times when mom was busy cooking, cleaning, doing laundry.

More often than not, kids love to help. Making them feel as "helpful", instead of annoying, usually works like magic. You can get all your house chores done with kids happily working beside you. When you cook - offer no choice. It's not safe in the kitchen - basta! Do a puzzle kiddo, let them figure things out for themselves ;-)

Julie doesn't have to cook dinner. I do. I agree it would be easier to cook if our daughter wasn't completely splayed on the floor somewhere between the stove and sink.

I hold no delusions that as we have more kids the younger kids won't watch more TV along with the older ones. I am the third of four children. I just don't see any value in the baby Einstein videos. No kid is going to pop a baby Einstein video in of their own volition.

We have no tv at home, but you know that people don't understand that. I personnaly were put down in front of tv programs when I was a little kid, and I know how sad it can be to be left on your own while your parents are doing anything else.
At least, parents should watch tv with their children, or turn it off (please!)

Diplodoc, I understand :-) Same here.

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