Even as a new and vulnerable mother, I suspected that the Baby Einstein videos were only good if you needed to stick the baby somewhere to take a shower, that they would not actually make my baby 30 or 50 or whatever percent smarter. Still, those videos were dispiriting for me, the first clue that the experience of mothering would be something like being trapped on an island resort with people always trying to sell me things and making me feel virtuous for buying them,or leaving me with a twinge of regret if I didn't.
So it is with some secret pleasure that I have watched the Baby Einstein franchise disintegrate over the years. The latest shot is this new study in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine showing that children under 2 do not actually learn vocabulary words from watching television. I actually take slight issue with this study. They do learn some words. But those tend to be words like "Diego" and "pretty pony." Which is OK with me, but let’s not pretend they have any relationship to Einstein.
The problem with Baby Einstein is not that children watch television. The problem is that the Baby Einstein founders Walter and Julie Aigner-Clark refuse to admit what Baby Einstein is, thus turning the rest of us into self satisfied idiots or dupes. Baby Einstein’s great contribution to American parenting culture is to convince parents that 5-month-olds can watch TV, too, thus launching an entirely new demographic for advertisers to target. That’s all-now debate.
The founders of Baby Einstein are now suing the University of Washington for the data on two earlier papers that showed that young children who watch television suffer attention problems and delayed language. As far as I’m concerned, the lawsuit has already brought me some measure of satisfaction, by forcing the Clarks to 'fess up. "Welcome to the 21 st Century," Julie recently said. "Most people have television in their houses, and most babies are exposed to it. And most people would agree that a child is better of listening to Beethoven while watching images of a puppet than seeing any reality show I can think of."
Better than Real Housewives . Put that on the DVD box, and I'll be quiet.
Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News.