24 October 2009

Its Not Like Einstein Was That Bright Anyway...

I never thought that New York Times and Baby Einstein would ever have a cage match, but I had always kind of hoped. In this recent article No Einstein in Your Crib? Get a Refund, the NYT shares the fact that, as part of a class action lawsuit, you can get your money back for up to four Baby Einstein DVDs. The basic summary is that the educational value of these videos was strongly implied, though not directly stated, so if you think your kid was not made "geniusy" enough, then you can return them. I am not sure how I feel about this, I can really see both sides of the issue.

The marketing of these videos clearly implied that they were the top of the line, research based, best way to get your baby on the path to higher learning and excellence. That is clearly not true. Research has proven that such "edutainment" doesn't have many benefits, and some extremists even argue that it can be pretty detrimental. "Baby Einstein gave my kid ADD" and so on. Basically the company did lie, and by some logic, should be held accountable for false claims and the cash that people spent while being misinformed. The baby/child industry is riddled with similar snake oil salesmen claiming to have the next best item to help your child achieve greatness. If all these companies who make claims about prenatal education systems, teaching children to read by a year and so on were held accountable in this manner, it could be beneficial. The baby/child industry should be held to the same standards as other industries. However, anyone with half a brain should have been able to realize that no amount of video watching would transform their child into a prodigy, and therein lies the rub.

The flip side of the coin is me wanting to say something akin to "if you truly believed a DVD would make your kid smarter, then the genetic set back may be more than he/she can overcome." While some TV here and there never killed anyone, more on that in a moment, the fact that people seem to think that TV can replace the need for interaction is ludicrous. Disney having to give money back to parents who claim, even if only to get the cash, that they really believed these DVDs would raise their kids IQ merely highlights the dirty underbelly of our overly litigious society. I imagine that most people are returning the DVDs just because they can, but the idea that a group of lawyers took this case on, and were able to argue it into a settlement boggles the mind. Can no one be honest and say "yeah, I used these to get some down time/calm a colicky baby/buy time to make dinner, but certainly never expected early acceptance at an ivy league school"? This has opened a whole can of worms that Disney, and many other kids companies will come to regret. Before you know it any kid with a learning disability or below average test scores will be eligible for a settlement from the toy company of your choice. After all, you said that this shape sorter was built based on research, so why is my kid failing geometry? Insert diatribe about overly entitled parents looking to blame anyone but themselves for their kid's lack of perfection here.

For anyone who actually wants to learn about kids and TV I recommend Into the Minds of Babes by Lisa Guernsey. The author looks into what the research actually has to say about TV and what makes good kids programming. The basic consensus is that TV is not a great educational tool, but some exposure to carefully chosen programming will not ruin a kid. Plus, lets be honest, we are all human and sometimes that half an hour of Baby Einstein or Yo Gabba Gabba is needed to get through the day. Don't worry, if you use Dora so you can bathe once in a while, your kids will probably be fine.

The take home messages here:
- TV cannot replace reading, interaction with other humans and getting out there and living life
- TV, used in moderation, will not give your kid ADD, autism or anything else for that matter
-this is a great opportunity to return a few of those horrid DVDs your kids never watched anyway, after all $50 can buy a lot of books and museum passes

PS I just want to add that Einstein wasn't the crack genius we all make him out to be anyway, so try and ignore that label when browsing kids stuff. He was good with ideas, but not so good at application. Case in point: his wife at the time did all the math for his major theories. In physics "the math" is generally known as "all the work." The DH and I lament this all the time as you can see here.