Watching television won't turn babies into Einsteins
By Patricia Cantor
January 25. 2007
Following tradition, President Bush closed his State of
the Union address by introducing some ordinary Americans
who had done extraordinary things. In addition to the
war hero, the everyday hero and the immigrant who made
it to the NBA, there was the enterprising entrepreneur
who hatched an idea in her basement and became a
multimillionaire. She is Julie Aigner-Clark, and her
money-making idea was to produce videos for infants and
market them under the name Baby Einstein.
Of all the aspects of the speech that will be discussed
and debated in coming days, his mention of Baby Einstein
may seem inconsequential. But as a parent, early
childhood educator and concerned citizen, I cannot let
it pass without comment.
The story of the new mom whose attempt to bring her love
of art and music to her infant daughter resulted in a
$20 million company appeals to our American admiration
of the self-made millionaire. As the Baby Einstein
materials unfailingly point out, Aigner-Clark is a
former teacher (high school English). What, then, could
be wrong with a product line conceived by a teacher and
Plenty. Baby Einstein videos are insidious - seductive
but harmful. The shrewdly chosen name sends a clear
message to parents: These videos will make your baby
smarter, maybe even a genius. The parent testimonials on
the Baby Einstein website exclaim about how much their
babies love to watch these videos, how they will just
stare at the screen for long periods.
But just because babies are staring at objects moving on
a screen does not mean they're learning. There is no
evidence to support the implied claims that Baby
Einstein videos, or any similar products that engage
infants in staring at screens, enhance infants' growth
and development in any way.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics, in a 1999
policy statement, urges parents to avoid television or
screen time for children under 2. "While certain
television programs may be promoted to this age group,
research on early brain development shows that babies
and toddlers have a critical need for direct
interactions with parents and other significant
caregivers for healthy brain growth and the development
of appropriate social, emotional and cognitive skills,"
the statement said.
While Baby Einstein videos and similar products may
capture infants' attention, they are no substitute for
stimulating and nurturing interactions with real people.
The moving shapes and animals on the screen cannot
respond to a watching infant. They just keep doing the
same thing over and over.
As parents and early educators have long known, infants
learn by interacting with adults who care about them.
Research on children's development is also clear on this
point. Yet the trend to market Baby Einstein and similar
products to infants (or their parents) continues to
In addition to baby videos, products directed at infants
include lapware, or computer software for babies, as
well as a TV channel devoted entirely to infant
Infants cannot even turn on a TV or computer, let alone
ask for their own channel. The push to market to infants
is not driven by a sudden desire among corporations to
promote infant development, but by their recognition
that there is money to be made from parents who want the
best for their babies. Multimillion-dollar marketing
campaigns pushing products to make babies "smarter" are
hard to resist.
For many harried parents, baby videos serve the purpose
of occupying the baby for a few minutes so Mom or Dad
can take a shower, cook dinner or talk on the phone. But
let's not be seduced into buying the marketing pitch
that these videos will make our babies smarter.
Spending inordinate amounts of time staring at screens,
whether at home or in the car, will not create a
generation of geniuses. Babies don't need these products
to learn or to grow into happy, healthy, intelligent
I am willing to bet that Aigner-Clark, President Bush's
model of American enterprise, did not develop her own
particular brand of entrepreneurial genius by staring at
a screen as an infant. And I am sure Einstein himself
did not watch baby videos.
(Patricia Cantor of Concord is a professor of early
childhood education at Plymouth State University.)
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