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Infant DVDs won't mould a baby Einstein


Janice Tibbets

CanWest News Service
March 1, 2008


Baby Einstein, makers of popular DVDs for infants as young as three months, has stopped billing its videos as educational, following a formal complaint from a U.S. advocacy group that the Disney-owned company was making "false and deceptive" claims that it can give babies a leg up in learning.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is claiming victory after Baby Einstein quietly changed its website to remove assertions that its eye-catching array of colourful videos can help develop cognitive skills in the very young.

Gone are promotional claims that the DVD's such as Baby Wordsworth "fosters the development of your toddler's speech and language skills" and Numbers Nursery will "help develop your baby's understanding of what numbers mean."

"We're really happy that the changes have been made because this means this deception of parents is not going to continue," said Josh Golin, a spokesman for the Boston-based advocacy group, which filed a complaint almost two years ago with the Federal Trade Commission.

The name Einstein itself is synonymous with "genius" - suggesting that the DVD's will help make babies smart, charged Golin.

The commission ruled in December that it would not take any enforcement action against Baby Einstein, under consumer protection laws, in light of changes the company had made to descriptions of its DVDs and a promise that it would "take appropriate steps to ensure that any future claims of educational and/or developmental benefit for children was adequately substantiated."

Baby Einstein, which makes 26 DVDs for babies and toddlers aged three months to three years, dominates the booming baby-video industry.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, recommends "no screen time" at all for children under two. In a letter supporting the complaint to the trade commission, the academy said that there is no evidence to prove that videos help baby or toddler development.

Researchers at the University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital went even further last summer in a study that concluded videos can be harmful for children under 16 months or younger and that they have no effect, positive or negative, on the vocabularies of toddlers aged 17 to 24 months.

The Canadian Paediatric Society is silent on TV for babies under age two, but it recommends limiting it to one hour a day or less for preschoolers.

A Baby Einstein spokeswoman said in an e-mail that a redesign of the company's website, launched two weeks ago, was not in response to the Federal Trade Commission complaint.

But the e-mail noted that the company made earlier "voluntary modifications" to "clarify what Baby Einstein is all about, which is to provide parents with simple tools they can use with their babies to inspire meaningful moments of discovery and interaction together."

Hillel Goelman, a professor of Early Childhood Education at University of British Columbia, said the reality is that many parents rely on TV and videos as a "surrogate parent" rather than making it an interactive activity by watching alongside their children.

"What kids need is direct interaction with other people and putting them in a passive role at a very young age is not that helpful," said Goelman, who advocates no TV or videos for children until age three.


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