They have a long way to go to make their organization’s name a reality, but the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood claimed an important recent victory.
CCFC has for years sought to reveal the truth about so-called educational videos designed ostensibly to increase the brainpower of growing babies. Studies show no measurable gains in intelligence or verbal skills associated with baby videos. In fact, researchers at the University of Washington found that for every hour per day of screen viewing by infants aged 8 to 16 months, a measurable decrease occurs in communicative development.
In 2006, CCFC filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint against Baby Einstein and brand owner Disney, charging that the company’s marketing misled parents into believing the videos could positively impact development and learning.
At that time, Disney stopped claiming that Baby Einstein videos were educational (in so many words). But they didn’t admit outright that they were selling a product under false pretenses.
CCFC kept up the pressure and last week, Disney announced it will refund buyers for up to four Baby Einstein videos. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, mind you, but just in case some folks mistakenly believed the product would make their babies smarter. The company says this is Disney’s standard quality guarantee.
There are a few lessons to be learned from Disney’s non-admission of false advertising. Caveat Emptor, is one. A savvy consumer -- or just a reasonably rational parent – ought to wonder if it’s realistic to believe plopping a baby in front of a video screen can advance his or her intelligence.
“Be careful what you wish for” is another possible lesson, since according to biographers, Albert Einstein enjoyed a normal childhood, “except that to his family's irritation, he learnt to speak at a late age.”
But perhaps the most crucial lesson for parents is to remember that while babies don’t come with instructions, as if oft noted at baby showers, we are blessed with a certain intuitive facility to care for them. And it turns out that the thing that comes most naturally – sitting on the floor, playing, singing and cooing – are the things that actually do advance the cognitive development of babies.
It might seem as though the Baby Einstein (and Baby Mozart and Baby Galileo) concept was meant to play into the competitive parenting instincts of those who would pay for videos today, Harvard tuition tomorrow.
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