Baby Einsteins or baby couch
You can almost hear the boom in
sales of "educational videos" for
American infants and toddlers.
On Amazon.com, the "Baby Einstein
Mozart" DVD ranks right around 126
in total DVD sales, behind "Bambi,"
but well ahead of the fourth season
of "Seinfeld" and the "Eagles
Farewell Tour from Melbourne."
Retailers project infancy to age
7 as the fastest-growing segment of
the children's DVD market between
now and 2010.
Well-educated moms and dads are
shelling out $15 or $20 for DVDs and
videos from Baby Einstein, Brainy
Baby, Baby Genius and Nick Jr.,
among others. The market is huge,
the claims ambiguous.
Parents say the videos, which can
produce trances in babies and
toddlers, are a healthy way to
occupy children while dinner is
being made or housework gets done,
but experts say the colorful and
highly produced products are growing
a generation of couch potatoes.
"We know that babies do just fine
without watching television if they
have a reasonably supportive and
stimulating environment," said
Daniel Anderson, a University of
with a $300,000 National Science
Foundation grant to study the impact
of baby videos.
"The bottom line is that there is
absolutely no evidence that baby
videos enhance that world at all,
and there's some weak evidence that
they might actually do harm," he
said. "The marketing . . . makes it
seem you are doing something good
for your kids when the research
shows it's just kind of a
time-waster. You are really fooling
yourself if you're thinking it's
doing some good for the baby. It's
good for you. Don't kid yourself as
to what's going on here."
In December, the Kaiser Family
Foundation released a study, "A
Teacher in the Living Room?
Educational Media for Babies,
Toddlers and Preschoolers."
The study found that:
DVDs and videos aimed at very
young children may be less effective
than other activities they may be
displacing, such as one-on-one
parental interaction and physical
Some experts worry that early
childhood electronic media products
may actually have adverse effects on
child development, including
attention span and response to
Maria Stacey, a registered nurse,
and her husband, Erik, a dentist,
have a library of Baby Einsteins in
their Verona home - everything from
"Baby Einstein Wordsworth" to "Baby
Einstein Neighborhood Animals" - for
son Nicholas, 3,
and 15-month-old daughter Brynn.
They also have flash cards marketed
with the DVDs.
"I think there are worse things
they could be watching," said Maria
Stacey. "Nick really liked the
colors and the music. Someone gave
us one as a gift when he was 6 or 7
But neither she nor her husband
believes the products make their
children smarter, and say watching
doesn't replace trips to the park.
Madison mother Char Purtell says
her son, Mitchell, 3, watched Baby
Einstein as an infant. "I think it
allows infants to coordinate their
eyes to follow images on the
screen," she said.
Baby Einstein-like products,
Purtell said, give an infant
something to do during long
stretches of wakefulness during the
day, though she said she hasn't had
time yet to view them with her
4-month-old daughter, Anya. "She's
going to get bored staring at my
face all day long," Purtell said.
"She's up a lot during the day. I
need to have options."
The Kaiser report said
educational videos lure parents with
the implications of names like
Einstein and Genius. The Brainy Baby
Left Brain video for babies 6 months
and older, for example, is marketed
as "the first video series that can
help stimulate cognitive
development." Brainy Baby executives
say the products inspire "whole
Experts are skeptical.
"There is not a shred of evidence
that these products make babies
'smarter,' whatever that means,"
said Seth Pollack, director of the
child emotion research lab at UW-
Madison. "At very best, babies may
find them interesting . . . but
there are lots of physical and
social things in the world that
babies are also captivated by."
The American Academy of
Pediatrics recommends no screen time
for children under 2 years old - and
no more than one to two hours a day
of high-quality educational screen
media for children over 2. But on
average, the study reports, American
babies spend an hour a day watching
Although there hasn't been much
research on media's effects on
infants and toddlers, Julie Poehlman
said, there was a study last year of
2,068 children aged 4 to 35 months
that found more television watching
was associated with irregular
napping and irregular nighttime
"I think that the claims of the
videos and DVDs produced for infants
are not based on science - rather,
they are just clever marketing
strategies for parents who want
their infants to be as 'smart' as
possible," said Poehlman, assistant
professor of Human Development &
Family Studies at UW- Madison.
In the business world, the
strategies translate into dollars.
The market for developmental videos
and DVDs produced specially for
infants and toddlers is increasing
steadily, with one report estimating
that U.S. sales had reached $100
million in 2004.
"It's the business to be in,"
said Temple University psychology
professor Kathy Hirsh- Pasek.
But Hirsh-Pasek and other
researchers view the phenomenon with
"First of all, you are creating a
passive generation," she said. "If
you're hanging around and sitting in
front of the television, what aren't
you doing? They're not playing
outside. They're not doing gross
In addition, Hirsh-Pasek said,
the products lack human interaction
and raise false expectations.
"Children learn by interacting with
human beings," she said, "and most
parents report they are using the TV
as a baby-sitter, not as a learning
Anderson said the rapid growth in
baby media represents a huge change
in the environment of very young
children. In the 1970s and '80s,
infants and toddlers watched little
television, he said.
"Kids by and large didn't start
seriously watching TV until 2,"
Anderson said. "But, beginning with
"Barney," there's been almost no
looking back. . . . "Barney" pushed
the age down. "Teletubbies" pushed
it lower. Then the Baby Einstein
series came out."
Now, he said, baby videos are
arguably the most popular
Charleen Mattmann, the manager of
the Learning Shop, 714 S. Gammon
Road, sells the products, but she
warned they aren't very educational
by themselves. "You have to
interact," she said. "You can't just
plop a baby down in front of it and
expect something to happen."
And if you must give your infant
to Baby Einstein for safekeeping,
Hirsh-Pasek said, do it for only 15
minutes at a time. "We have to start
looking at the world as an exciting
place and not outsourcing everything
we do. Electronic media is
outsourcing, especially for children
younger than 2."
Toddlers can't understand
TV, researcher says
Daniel Anderson, a researcher
with the University of Massachusetts
Amherst, is studying the effects of
media on infants and toddlers.
In his lab, he compared a
2-year-old's response to "live"
human directions versus directions
given by the same humans on a
television screen. The youngsters
were told to find a toy hidden in
another room after they saw the
researcher hide it through a window.
But when the toddlers were asked
to find an object by watching the
same researcher on a TV screen
hiding it, they had trouble.
"If you use a live demonstration
with kids 2 and under, they can do
all kinds of things - imitate
things, find things," Anderson said.
"But if you use a video
demonstration, they act as if they
don't get it."
For children older than 2,
he said, TV can be a really powerful
educational medium. "But babies and
toddlers don't pay attention to TV
because they can't understand it. At
the very least, in terms of what we
know, it's probably a waste of kids'