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Baby Einstein = Baby Dumbed-Down?

Apparently Baby Einstein is making our kids dumber. Sort of.

According to a University of Washington/Seattle Children's Hospital Institute study that's been covered in Newsweek and numerous other publications, DVDs of the Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby variety don't make infants smarter. In fact, children between the ages of 8 and 16 months comprehend fewer vocabulary words for every hour they watch these supposedly educational videos.

As Susan Gregory Thomas suggests in her book "Buy Buy Baby" -- which, by the way, must benefit from the extra publicity this study has delivered -- these DVDs have become popular because parents are psychologically swayed by the marketing behind them. We see the words Baby and Einstein next to each other and assume that if our kids watch these little movies, they'll bust out the next theory of relativity.

Personally, having viewed some of the trippy Baby Einstein vids, I'm convinced the people who develop these products spent a little too much time hanging out at Phish concerts, if you know what I'm saying. When I screened one of them for my son, he was compelled briefly, then lost interest. My beagle, on the other hand? Literally riveted to the screen. Maybe someone should do a study on how Baby Einstein affects the vocabulary of canines.

Of course, if you have been showing these DVDs to your kids, I don't think you should freak out and assume you have mentally scarred them. As with most things, exposure to this sort of educational material is a matter of moderation, something the study's author, Frederick Zimmerman, explains to Newsweek. If children 8 months and older watch some Brainy Baby every once in a while, I doubt it will cause them to bomb the verbal portion of their SATs. But park your kid in front of the same thing for extended periods of time, day after day -- whether it's a video or the same white wall -- and odds are his or her brain won't be as stimulated as it could be. That's just common sense. And I don't think any of us need researchers from Seattle or elsewhere to tell us that.

-- Jen Chaney

By Jen Chaney |  August 9, 2007; 6:36 AM ET  | Category:  Babies
Previous: The Safety Dance | Next: A Soundtrack for Parenthood

Comments


Intelligence is determined by DNA.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2007 8:01 AM | Report abuse

Intelligence potential is determined by DNA. It can be easily dumbed down.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2007 8:30 AM | Report abuse

Now I see why GWB honored the Baby Einstein creator. He wants to do anything that will dumb down the electorate. Starting at birth is even more insidious than defunding the public schools.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2007 8:38 AM | Report abuse

I received a ton of baby einstein dvds when DD was born. She would stare transfixed at the stuff turning on the screen. I tossed them after a couple of viewings.

Posted by: drmommy | August 9, 2007 8:44 AM | Report abuse


Now I see why GWB honored the Baby Einstein creator. He wants to do anything that will dumb down the electorate. Starting at birth is even more insidious than defunding the public schools.

Posted by: | August 9, 2007 08:38 AM

In all seriousness, thank you for this comment. It is nice to see someone else sharing this viewpoint, however, I think it benefits ALL career politicians to have an ill-informed, distracted, & insipid electorate, not just GWB.

Posted by: MIMom | August 9, 2007 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Maybe Baby Einstein is appropriately named after all -- Einstein was a notoriously late developer of verbal skills. I think he didn't talk until he was 4!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2007 9:00 AM | Report abuse

OH, PLEASE! The problem isn't with the DVDs, it's with the way in which they are used and the people who use them. Seems to me that the study has identified correlation, not causation. In all likelihood, people who park their children in front of the TV for hours each day are failing to stimulate those children the rest of the day, too. Of course those children show slower development!

I'm so tired of these "scare-the-parents" studies and the sensational media coverage they receive. My boys both adored Baby Einstein and, after a slow start (probably genetic as speech delays run in my family) they are both to the far right of the bell curve in language skills. That's because my husband and I TALK to our kids, and have done so since they were infants.

Instead of blaming yet one more external cause for the dumbing-down of America, perhaps we should go to the source - lack of solid parenting skills. We need to convince people that they MUST take responsibility for and be an active participant in their children's social and intellectual development. Yes, we all have a baseline intelligence determined by our genes, but it's up to each of us reach it.

Posted by: 2terrificboys | August 9, 2007 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I have long had issues with Baby Einstein (and its various clones). Not only because their claims seemed dubious to me, but because they prey on on the worries and dreams of parents. Marketing can be really sinister sometimes.

Interaction and "face time" is still the most effective and determining factor for the sorts of things that these DVDs are supposed to enhance.

Posted by: David S | August 9, 2007 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Cheney - you're wrong with regard to: " That's just common sense. And I don't think any of us need researchers from Seattle or elsewhere to tell us that." In the study, one third of parents surveyed with infants have their infants watch these ridiculous videos - obviously THEY need researchers from Seattle to tell them to turn off the TV. Also, lest anyone argue they "need" the tv for a few minutes to take a shower, take out the trash, etc.: first, people were able to take showers before the arrival of the TV, and second, obviously, if you read the study itself, they aren't talking about parents whose infants watch 10 minutes of tv. They're addressing people whose children watch an hour of Einstein or more - in their finding that watching an hour of Einstein decreases a child's vocabulary by 8 words. If you bought into the idiocy of making your kid "smarter" by watching TV, and STILL think your kid is a genius, well then good for you - I'll make sure to give you more dvds at your kids' birthday time, and hope it catches up with them by the time they're competing with my kid for a seat at a good college.

Posted by: SMF | August 9, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Excuse me, typo. I meant "Ms. ChAney."

Posted by: SMF | August 9, 2007 9:38 AM | Report abuse

If you have time to park your child in front of a TV to stare at the idiot box, you have time to actually turn it off and read to the child yourself.

Posted by: Steve | August 9, 2007 9:41 AM | Report abuse

2terrificboys

I'm confused.

"My boys both adored Baby Einstein "

"We need to convince people that they MUST take responsibility for and be an active participant in their children's social and intellectual development."

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2007 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Now I see why GWB honored the Baby Einstein creator. He wants to do anything that will dumb down the electorate. Starting at birth is even more insidious than defunding the public schools.

These types of comments are just moronic. So many "studies" today are so highly politicized that i just ignore them. In moderation, i doubt they hurt anyone to watch.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 9, 2007 9:47 AM | Report abuse

My husband emailed me the article when it was first published a few days ago wondering if we damaged our daughter letter her watch the videos. I think, as the article points out, the problem is people using the TV as a babysitter not with the videos themselves. We would watch a video with our daughter every evening, volume low, with the bedtime bottle. The music and gentle voices were very soothing to her and we could discuss the objects/colors/letters/etc. with her as we watched. As soon as she was interested in having books read to her (instead of just trying to eat the books) and was no longer taking a bottle (giving us a free hand) we switched to books at bedtime.

Posted by: 21117 | August 9, 2007 9:51 AM | Report abuse

"My boys both adored Baby Einstein and, after a slow start (probably genetic as speech delays run in my family) they are both to the far right of the bell curve in language skills. "

Are you sons retarded? Does Baby Einstein help retarded kids?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2007 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Agree w/the post that notes it's parenting skills that matter. The problem is, it actually takes effort to interact with infants/toddlers, so a lot of parents use the TV as a shortcut. TV is a passive experience for an infant. There's a lot of neural circuitry being formed at that age (0-2 yrs), and we just don't know how TV exposure interacts with ongoing cognitive development.

In a more general sense, the fact that ~20% of kids under 3 have a TV in their bedroom is just downright frightening. My personal hunch is that at least part of the rise in autism and or ADHD can be attributed to excessive TV viewing...not in all cases, of course, but perhaps in a genetically susceptible population, it's an environmental factor that should be considered. Until a carefully controlled study comes along to prove/disprove that, I certainly think better discretion by parents in kids' viewing habits is advised.

Posted by: Fatherof2 | August 9, 2007 9:59 AM | Report abuse

My sister claims that classical music makes babies smarter.

I think rap music makes babies smarter. All my children, when they could pull themselves up on the nightstand and learned to turn the dial on the clock radio, went right by the music composed by dead white men, passed the country stations, talk shows, classic rock, oldies, and when they hit the rap music, stopped their and shook their butt.

Maybe it's a stretch that rap music makes babies smarter, but it sure gets them to move their butts, which I think is a good thing.

The only problem with it though, is it gives my wife a headache.

Posted by: Lil Husky | August 9, 2007 10:02 AM | Report abuse

I wonder whether the study controlled for whether parents watched the programs with their children, and interacted with the child/ren during the viewing in relation to the viewing. This MIGHT make a difference as it would be using the content as a jumping off point for other content. Memory studies conducted in psychology have indicated that children's memories of events are vastly improved by parental reinforcement of content by asking children leading questions (see, for instance, Robyn Fivush and Katherine Nelson. "Culture and Language in the Emergence of Autobiographical Memory." Psychological Science 15(9): 573-577; see also Peter A. Ornstein, Catherine A. Haden, and Amy M. Hedrick. "Learning to remember: Social-communicative exchanges and the development of children's memory skills." Developmental Review 24: 374-395. 2004.).

I have noticed this phenomenon in my own son. He got very little out of Little Einsteins and even Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood UNLESS I watched it with him, pointed out what I thought were salient points, and later helped him to actively make connections between real-life phenomena and narratives on TV. Now, he asks questions as we watch and the answers are often connections with real-life: "Mommy, why did Mr. Rogers say it not nice to take another children's toy without asking?" (hey, he's not yet 3; grammar suffers) Answer: "Well, do you remember how you felt last week over at M's house when M took your yellow soccer ball that you brought to play with him, and would not give it back or play with you? That made you feel bad, and it was not nice to make you feel bad. That's what Mr. Rogers meant."

He seems to be making his own connections along these lines, now. He will hear a piece of classical music on the radio and say "that is just like on Little Einsteins when the monkey lost his parents." Or he will see someone doing something kind and say "that is just like what Mr. Rogers said people should do for each other when they are sad."

My examples, though, are merely anecdotal. See the articles above for how parental reinforcement through social interaction can really alter the impact of a child's experiences on memory and learning more generally.

I suspect that the Baby Einstein videos (which I have seen, and are a bit trippy) would benefit from similar interactivity: "those colors, like yellow and orange, make me feel happy, just like that music makes me feel happy." And so forth.

Posted by: A. Reiheld | August 9, 2007 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Reading these posts has convinced me that, by and large, parents are goofy.

Posted by: Adrienne Najjar | August 9, 2007 10:49 AM | Report abuse

"Mommy, why did Mr. Rogers say it not nice to take another children's toy without asking?"

Oh, my God! What a stupid kid!!!

Posted by: newhere | August 9, 2007 11:09 AM | Report abuse

People get really hysterical about this, but, in my eyes, there just isn't anything wrong with parking a baby in front of the TV for 15 minutes so you can take a shower.

I have yet to hear of any study that demonstrates that less than a half-hour or even one hour of TV per day is bad for developing minds. Hours a day is a different story.

Of course, the woman who owns Baby Einstein DOES strike me as creepy in a right-wing churchy way, and I could see boycotting her products just for that reason.

Posted by: mg | August 9, 2007 11:14 AM | Report abuse

I have always felt that this kind of DVD for babies is intended to teach children how to watch/be addicted to TV -- how awful and useless. My kids have never watched them.

Posted by: Lynne | August 9, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, Adrienne, for that pearl of wisdom. If it has taken you this long to realize that most parents (myself included) are goofy, then I assume you are not one. Relax and go with the flow!

Posted by: Steve | August 9, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

by A. Reiheld at August 9, 2007 10:27 AM

"I suspect that the Baby Einstein videos (which I have seen, and are a bit trippy) would benefit from similar interactivity: 'those colors, like yellow and orange, make me feel happy, just like that music makes me feel happy.' And so forth."

I suspect that is true. Though this is from no ability of the video itself. As you pointed out, you do this with Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood, as I would with Dr. Suess book. The harm done in this case is to your pocketbook (or that of a friend or relative in the case of a gift), as you would have bought a video which is only as good as something that you can get for free.

Posted by: David S | August 9, 2007 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Ours is a TV-free household for many reasons, but mainly for the sake of my daughter's brain development. No there are not conclusive studies, but there is enough evidence for us (both scientists - daddy is a neurobiologist) to conclude that 2-D moving images don't have an impact on learning in very young children and may increase risk of attention problems. It helps that we were never big TV fans anyway, but we have not missed it at all.

I would recommend a book called "Growing a Reader From Birth" which outlines how language is acquired in children from 0-5 and what parents and caregivers can do to augment the process. The advice is simple and hard to argue with - talk with your child as much as possible in an interactive fashion.

Posted by: MaryB | August 9, 2007 11:21 AM | Report abuse

I agree with 2terrific boys. It's all about the parenting skills. The more hands-on and interactive you are with your babies, children, teen-agers the more they learn. It also gives you the opportunity to talk about the thought process (as they get older) and how they arrive at the conclusions they do. As far as being goofy, yeah, I guess I've fallen into that category on more than one occasion.

Posted by: momof3boys | August 9, 2007 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I tend to think that the existence of all this anti-this-or-that research is a symptom of a society that believes that if some parental sacrifice is good, then more must be better, and if parents aren't willing to immolate themselves on the alter of "cognitive development" then their children will be terrible failures who will abuse drugs and bring down western civilization. 30 minutes of TV per day may cost your infant a few words by age two, but it probably won't kill her unless the TV falls on her head. What it WILL do, is give a harried parent 30 minutes to have a cup of coffee, and get her head on straight for the rest of the day. As I see it, what the researchers are saying when they rail against the evils of TV, is that parents do not deserve to have any of the family's resources devoted to their own welfare.

Posted by: m | August 9, 2007 11:59 AM | Report abuse

MaryB is right. No benefits *to the child* for "Baby Einstein," and quite possibly some harmful side effects from it. The only "benefit" is to the parents, who want to justify their decisions with non-sequiters such as, "I need to take a shower," "I need to cook dinner."

If your children are unable to entertain themselves for 20 minutes without television, your parenting problems are more serious than anything "Baby Einstein" addresses. Video images -- especially for children under 2 -- have serious consequences for children's development. The documentation for this has mounted in the past couple of years, but Jen Chaney et. al. keep falling back on, "If you let your kids watch a little TV, I'm sure they'll turn out fine." Maybe so. And maybe some kids who don't watch Tv before age 2 will be underachievers. But with the pile of evidence pointing in the other direction, why would anyone take that risk?

Oh, sorry, I forgot. Mommy and daddy need to time to shower and cook.

Posted by: Discman | August 9, 2007 12:13 PM | Report abuse

"If your children are unable to entertain themselves for 20 minutes without television, your parenting problems are more serious than anything "Baby Einstein" addresses."

Hahahahaha!!!! You know, I love how people who either don't have kids or have easy kids find it so easy to dismiss other parents' problems as just bad parenting. I've got two kids myself, and they're at the far ends of the spectrum. The girl absolutely HATED me being out of her sight, would truly shriek her head off the entire time. I would have given anything for a video or toy or SOMETHING to entertain her for even 15 minutes so I could shower or start dinner. Yeah, it's not the best thing for her, but getting herself so completely worked up over not seeing me can't have been really good for her either. Unfortunately, she had no interest whatsoever in videos.

I've also got a boy, who's as mellow as the day is long; he can entertain himself better at 2 than she can at 6. Ironically, he would have been more than happy to watch a video while I showered, but he was so mellow, I didn't need to -- just set him on the bathroom floor with a toy.

Am I a crappy parent? Possibly. But you can't prove it by whether my kids could entertain themselves for 20 minutes when they were under 2, because the same parents, and same parenting, produced completely opposite results.

Posted by: Laura | August 9, 2007 12:46 PM | Report abuse

"Am I a crappy parent? Possibly. But you can't prove it by whether my kids could entertain themselves for 20 minutes when they were under 2, because the same parents, and same parenting, produced completely opposite results"

One of your kids is more retarded than the other; that accounts for the different results.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2007 12:51 PM | Report abuse

My middle daughter, now a junior in college, recently wrote in a paper on how technology impacts society that my not allowing her (or her sisters) to have television in their rooms was a key positive factor in her development. We had only one television in the house and it was in the family room. We had to decide as a family what to watch, and we watched together. I cannot stress how much I believe this decision on my part positively influenced my kids and my relationship with my kids. The fights during their teen years were definitely worth it! They didn't have television in their rooms until they left for college and then they were prepared to negotiate with roommates about television use.

Posted by: Mom of 3 Grown Girls | August 9, 2007 12:53 PM | Report abuse

mg: so you want to boycott the owner of Baby Einstein for no other reason than you percieve her as "right wing churchy?" If I boycotted actors because of their political viewpoints, I would never watch Tim Robbins, Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Sean Penn and pretty much 99% of those in the entertainment field. Are you so intolerant that you hate someone just because they disagree with you? You must be a lot of fun at parties. Ugh!


Posted by: Steve | August 9, 2007 12:53 PM | Report abuse

We agree with MaryB that TV is generally bad for young minds, but we appreciated the slow pacing of the Baby Einstein videos. When we have the TV on (which is only an hour or so per day), we choose either commercial-free, slow paced, channels or the Baby Einstein videos, AND we all watch the TV TOGETHER. We talk about what we see and how it relates to our world. As a result, our daughter has excellent concentration and mental focus. Her verbal, reading, and math skills are appropriate or advanced for her age. As a plus, we really enjoy seeing the surprise on people's faces when she correctly identifies a work of music or art.
We would get the Baby Einstein videos again if we had it to do over, but they definitely do not substitute for genuine family interaction.

Posted by: Patricia | August 9, 2007 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I watch Baby Einstein with my toddler, and yesterday he said "lion" (World Animals, hosted by Jane the chimp). Let me tell you I sleep better at night knowing my son can warn me against a rogue lion attack!

Posted by: Suburban Dad | August 9, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Patricia

"As a plus, we really enjoy seeing the surprise on people's faces when she correctly identifies a work of music or art. "

What a goal!!!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Some of these postings are truly uncivil - calling a child "retarded" is horrific. Shame on you.
The truth of the matter is that all things in moderation are just fine. Take a shower while your child watches Baby Einstein and not only will he be a happy baby for the half hour you're occupied, you'll smell better. It's a two-fer. Be active in your child's life and not only will he be happier and smarter, you might get something out of it too. See? BALANCE!
And one last thing: Your dog really can't watch TV like you think. But that's not really the point, is it?

Posted by: Zoinks! | August 9, 2007 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I bought Baby Einstein years ago because my kids have never been allowed to watch anything with commercials. And, unless they are watching a special movie, and I'm sitting with them, they cannot watch more than 30-45 minutes of TV a day. While I don't think the kids "learned" due to watching, they were very willing to listen when I played classical music for them. The fact that some of the tunes were familiar made them more willing to give other unfamiliar tunes a try. Now we regularly listen to symphonies, concerts, etc. And, I've been making an exception to the "no commercials" rule so the kids can watch Little Einsteins on Disney, which introduces them to more classical music and art.

I should also say my kids, ages 6 and 5, came with me to the National Gallery last week and managed to walk and look at the pictures for four hours with a short break for lunch. They recognized some of what they saw from what they'd seen in both the videos and the TV show.

I don't think the videos made them smart or dumb. They helped me introduce them to cultural perspectives, ideas, and concepts that most American children never even know exist.

Posted by: a bea c | August 9, 2007 1:15 PM | Report abuse

As an avid Phish Phan, I am deeply offended.

Posted by: Fluffhead | August 9, 2007 1:16 PM | Report abuse

"I don't think the videos made them smart or dumb. They helped me introduce them to cultural perspectives, ideas, and concepts that most American children never even know exist. "

Why do you need videos to do this?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2007 1:19 PM | Report abuse

I think these studies are a load of bunk. How did these scientists "prove" that children who watch these videos have a vocabulary that is deficient by up to 8 words? Every child develops differently and no child knows a certain number of words by any given age.

I have two children who are developing totally differently. My first is a visual learner, loves videos, and has tested near genius levels in vocabulary and already reading at a 1s or 2d grade level before age 5. She's also very active, an independent player, and speaks very well. She loved Baby Einstein, used to drink it in and had an above average vocabulary for a child under age 1. My second is a tactile learner, hates videos, shows no interest in speaking but is great of figuring out how things work, open , etc.

Maybe as parents we need to rely less on experts and more on just doing what we think is best of for our children.

Posted by: smg | August 9, 2007 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I love the posts from the holier than thou crowd.

My twins watched a little Baby Einstein when they were babies -- much of that at 2 AM when we were trying to get them to sleep or at least calm down.

They just turned 3 and had their annual check up. The girl is speaking perfectly normally for her age and according to the doctor, the boy "speaks like a five-year-old."

So I guess he'd be speaking like a nine-year-old if we didn't expose him to these "evil" videos, huh?

Posted by: South Loudounian | August 9, 2007 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Lil Husky: "I think rap music makes babies smarter. All my children, when they could pull themselves up on the nightstand and learned to turn the dial on the clock radio, went right by the music composed by dead white men, passed the country stations, talk shows, classic rock, oldies, and when they hit the rap music, stopped their and shook their butt."

Much of that rap music, of course, has been composed by dead black men. Not sure why you needed to throw that in.

Posted by: South Loudounian | August 9, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Of course, the woman who owns Baby Einstein DOES strike me as creepy in a right-wing churchy way, and I could see boycotting her products just for that reason.

People like this are scary. Politicizing a baby video? I would watch these even if that idiot Michael Moore made them.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 9, 2007 1:43 PM | Report abuse

My boys both adored Baby Einstein and, after a slow start (probably genetic as speech delays run in my family) they are both to the far right of the bell curve in language skills. "

Are you sons retarded? Does Baby Einstein help retarded kids?

Stacey you should pull this post, it's offensive

Posted by: pATRICK | August 9, 2007 1:44 PM | Report abuse

"I should also say my kids, ages 6 and 5, came with me to the National Gallery last week and managed to walk and look at the pictures for four hours with a short break for lunch. They recognized some of what they saw from what they'd seen in both the videos and the TV show."

There is another place you can find pictures of works of art. They're called "books," and you can obtain them for free at you local library.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2007 1:56 PM | Report abuse

by: South Loudounian at August 9, 2007 01:28 PM

"So I guess he'd be speaking like a nine-year-old if we didn't expose him to these "evil" videos, huh?"

In all seriousness, your spouse, your daughter, and (of course) yourself are most likely to thank for his excellent verbal development. It sounds like you have a high level of interaction with your children, and the positive corellation between that and childhood development is well understood.

From what I have read, the study did not take into account or control for the the actions of parents. The real question I think we should ask concerns parenting practice. Does the given parent use Baby Einstein as a substitute for "face time?" I suspect that some parents do, and this may account for the results of the study. If you do not, I doubt you have much to worry about.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2007 1:58 PM | Report abuse

I simply do not understand why people believe that the only way to live their life is if they are constantly amusing their children. Teach your child some self reliance (in other words don't always be interacting with them). If your house is child-proofed you should be able to take a 10 minute shower while your toddler looks at books. Society survived and even improved for many years without children always being the center of adults lives!!!!!!

Posted by: mom of 2 intelligent outgoing kids | August 9, 2007 1:59 PM | Report abuse

The anonymous post at 1:58pm was me.

That's two days in a row. Oops.

Posted by: David S | August 9, 2007 2:00 PM | Report abuse

What is it about this board that brings out such meanness in people?

Posted by: blah blah | August 9, 2007 2:02 PM | Report abuse

"Stacey you should pull this post, it's offensive"

Duh!! Stacey is on vacation....

Posted by: newhere | August 9, 2007 2:04 PM | Report abuse

"How did these scientists "prove" that children who watch these videos have a vocabulary that is deficient by up to 8 words?"

SMG, good question -- I'm always wary about those kinds of claims, because these kinds of observational studies can prove only correlation, not causation. So they might have observed an eight-word difference, but they can't "prove" that watching videos caused it.

From my own experience, I'm wondering if the causal link runs the other way. My daughter is naturally verbal and extroverted; she never watched cartoons or Sesame Street, because interacting with real people was WAY more interesting to her. Meanwhile, the boy takes in everything, but very little comes back out (except, of course, for "no!"). I'm sure part of it is that with Doppler Girl in the house, he can't get a word in edgewise; but he's also just really not that interested in other people or in communicating -- he's more an observer, likes to figure out how things work. And he has been MUCH more interested in cartoons and videos from the get-go.

So from the outside, we seem to fit the stereotype, because the one who didn't watch cartoons is very verbal, while the one who did isn't. Except from what I see of my kids, the video-watching is just a symptom of their interests and abilities, not the cause. I mean, is it any surprise that Little Ms. Extrovert would find two-dimensional people hugely boring, when the alternative is real people who respond when she talks to them? Or that Mr. Future Engineer, who is way more turned on by inanimate objects than real live people, would loveLoveLOVE the chugging trains and whirling pinwheels on Baby Einstein?

Posted by: Laura | August 9, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

To mom of 2... AMEN!

Posted by: Steve | August 9, 2007 2:10 PM | Report abuse

I think it's more interesting how powered up parents get over this issue rather than the issue itself.

When it's still at such young ages, doesn't it all seem rather pointless? Breast feeding vs formula. TV vs no TV. A chunk of those kids will become tv addicts and genuises, and a chunk of those kids will never watch tv and be idiots.

While I understand it's good to know if something will be harmful or cause a serious issue in development- at that young of an age I can't put much stock in worrying about a few young kids videos.

Posted by: Liz D | August 9, 2007 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Laura: I have three kids under 5, one of whom is much more difficult than the other two. But playing with toys and reading books was never a chore for her. As for kids who shriek when the parent is out of their site, that's something that all kids go through. I'm sympathetic that some are worse than others, but the idea that you have to resort to videos to stop this crying is ... well, that's a cry for help, isn't it?

Zoinks: Did the gigantic APA study that concluded that kids under 2 shouldn't be watching *any* TV conclude that "all things in moderation are just fine," or is that something you've been conditioned to believe over the years as a reaction to fad diets?

To all who think watching WITH their kids is the key: Again, do the studies support the idea that talking about what's on view with a kid under 2 makes everything OK?

Of course they don't. Sorry to be so blunt, but I'm discussing a growing body of scientific evidence about BABIES (kids under 2, more generally), and not older kids. The attempts to explain away these data by ignoring them or by exercising wishful thinking are just that: ignorance and wishful thinking.

Gotta deal with the data, people.

Posted by: Discman | August 9, 2007 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I have to disagree with this. I used the DVDs with my daughter, but I also interacted with her during the process instead of using the DVD as a babysitter. She has progressed up to Little Einsteins and has developed a love not just for classical music, but all types of music as well as musical terms and a sense of intellectual curiosity. Again, it is a tool and is not designed to replace parent involvement.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2007 2:27 PM | Report abuse

"I used the DVDs with my daughter"

"Again, it is a tool and is not designed to replace parent involvement."

Why did you need it at all?

Posted by: newhere | August 9, 2007 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Everything in moderation. Nothing in excess.

Both my infant and I thought the Baby Einstein DVDs were pointless. She didn't care any more for them than I did. End result, several are still shrink wrapped.

Posted by: readerinnewyork | August 9, 2007 2:55 PM | Report abuse

It's interesting that parents are leaving their children unattended in front of a television while they are showering or going outside for the newspaper for seemingly short periods. Should very young children be left alone (even in a playpen or a "child-proof" home) for the 10 or 15 minutes it takes to shower? That time alone is enough for a child to get into trouble regardless of how hypnotized one may think the child is by a video. That said, I don't think a video will make children smarter but it won't harm them either as long as it's chosen with care and used appropriately with a parent on-hand to talk about it; it might help them gain access to information they otherwise could never experience hands-on, such as exotic animals, foreign countries, etc. However, books can do the same thing, and a child can eventually amuse himself or herself through reading. Parents need to read good, old-fashioned nursery rhymes to their children to familiarize them with the sounds and rhythms of the language; they need to read stories and poetry and talk through picture books to develop language, learn about all sorts of topics, and respond to ideas presented in books. And yes, this starts early, with developmentally appropriate materials--from the beginning--not once they're in kindergarten, not after they're over the chewing stage, not once they're able to hold a book upright--from the beginning. Trips to the park, the zoo, art museums, the playground, aquariums, farms, historical places, hands-on science museums and so forth are much better than viewing flat pictures on a TV screen. For math skills, there are endless ways to play games that develop number awareness, counting, addition and subtraction skills, and concepts such as greater or less than (count socks in a drawer, blocks, crayons, etc.) For heaven's sake, I taught my daughter the names of colors with a pillowcase one day when I saw she was aware of the differences in the colors on it. Music doesn't require a video component either; can it not be appreciated by just listening to it? Can a child not move to the beat without seeing someone else on a screen doing that? Can a child not use his or her imagination while listening to songs? Parenting doesn't have to involve high-tech toys, but it does have to involve attentiveness. And the money spent on videos such as Baby Einstein could be spent on books, CDs,manipulative toys, and trips to the zoo, park, museum, etc. If such outings are impossible, I would suggest checking out the children's videos offered by PBS or National Geographic. In the end, though, it's your child; if videos are the way for you to teach and amuse your child, so be it. As for politicizing the developer of Baby Einstein, GWB did that himself by highlighting and thus promoting her and her product on national television.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2007 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Never watched Baby Einstein, but did get the Signing Time videos, watched them with our son, and practiced signing like crazy...and he actually started signing around one year! He learned over a hundred signs, which was a HUGE help as he didn't really talk much until he was almost two, and he was able to communicate a LOT with us before then. So, I highly recommend them over Baby Einstein--although, like all videos, it only "works" if you watch with the kids. Also, Signing Time videos are much better than other baby signing products we've seen.

Posted by: Arlmom | August 9, 2007 3:03 PM | Report abuse

"Literally riveted to the screen."

Really? Of course not.

Obviously you meant "figuratively", but that doesn't sound as impressive because it isn't. A dog watching tv intently is not nearly as interesting as literally riveting a dog to a screen.

Say what you mean, mean what you say.

Posted by: miffed | August 9, 2007 3:13 PM | Report abuse

"So, I highly recommend them over Baby Einstein--although, like all videos, it only "works" if you watch with the kids. "

Land's sakes! Einstein didn't have "Baby Einstein"!!!!

Posted by: newhere | August 9, 2007 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Much ado about nothing. As a father of two, I think the Baby Einstein videos are innocuous and entertaining and perhaps even semi-educational. Most of the people hurling barbs at these videos probably wouldn't even be able to recognize and name the classical music pieces featured in them, and could use some further education themselves.

Yes, Baby Einstein is a product of marketing, but EVERYTHING that is as high profile as these videos are got there pretty much the same way. My guess is that the Baby Einstein series doesn't have an especially profound effect on a child's development one way or another. A smart kid is a smart kid is a smart kid, videos or not.

As for the content of these videos, both of my daughters love them. The older of the two is of above average intelligence, while the younger one has autism. Many of the videos in the series have a particularly calming effect on the younger one, especially the music ones, and that is certainly welcome at my house anytime. It's so pleasant to watch her rock gently from side to side while the music plays.

Ultimately, we all need to question what our culture is pushing forward for children's consumption in the here and now, and decide for ourselves what is acceptable for them and what isn't. Did you buy your kid the Harry Potter books? On the day they came out? At midnight? Did you ask yourself why?

Posted by: snortemis | August 9, 2007 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, but the commenters who are so worked up about these videos really need to take a deep breath and relax. My daughter watched these videos in moderation when she was a baby, and I honestly do not believe that it had any significant effect on her development. Her vocabulary was well over 100 words at 18 months (we stopped counting when we reached that number, which was off the charts), and she knew all of her letters by 21 months. She's now 6 years old, reads confidently, and is a happy, well-adjusted kid. By the way, as if the above do not show pretty healthy verbal skills, she also speaks French fluently.

Posted by: DC Dad | August 9, 2007 3:40 PM | Report abuse

My two boys really like these videos. There is a "more information" (or something like that) option on every video that gives a brief background on Baby Einstein and suggestions on how you can interact with your child during the video. These videos aren't meant to be babsitters. For my four year old, the videos for older children really fed into his excitement about learning his shapes, counting, zoo animals and even Christmas. While we don't go overboard and try do do everything with them in moderation, I admit that when they are sick or wake up way too early, I pop in a video for them and snuggle on the couch as it is sometimes the only thing to calm or sooth.

Posted by: Noel | August 9, 2007 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Discman, there was no "giant APA study" that "concluded" that kids under two shouldn't watch any TV. There was a committee inside the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that decided that as policy without any research backup.

Now, as to this particular study:

"TV MAKES KIDS DUMB" is a more compelling headline than telling the full story, but doesn't reflect a complex study in which the authors themselves are quick to point out shortcomings and caveats.

1) Development overall can't be measured by a single aspect like vocabulary, and while development proceeds in a relatively standard progression for all children, the pace varies widely.

2) All baby DVDs and videos are lumped together into one category, and described generically, but in reality each brand has its own format and curriculum. Even within one line, episodes may have different learning goals. And as with all media content, the level and quality of research behind each product varies widely.

It appears the study didn't ask which baby videos the children were watching and whether they were designed to promote vocabulary growth.

3) The authors themselves emphasize that they found a correlation, not causality. They note that parents who are concerned about their children's development may be more likely to buy such products, or that parents who use baby videos may do so because they feel less motivated or less able to promote their child's learning themselves. The authors recognize that this is a self-reporting measure, and that inattentive parents may be more likely to under-report vocabulary.

4) While there is a deficit among baby video watchers at 8-16 months, it has turned to a mild positive by 17-24 months. The author notes "the impact of baby DVDs/videos on development may be transient."

5) Other forms of media don't show the same negative correlation with vocabulary among the youngest children. In fact, children who watch movies and non-educational TV are most similar to those with parents who tell their children stories at least once a day, and just behind those whose parents read to them -- an hour a day of Spongebob for every baby!!! (My *guess* is that babies who are exposed to non-educational programs and movies are more likely to be co-viewing with older siblings.)

6) If I am reading the table correctly, the second most powerful negative correlation among 8-16 month olds is those whose parents allow no media viewing. Also, there is a reasonably positive relationship between frequent parental co-viewing and vocabulary.

As has been noted here, in real parents' real world, babies and toddlers see some media. Some do it because they believe there's a positive benefit; some do it because they don't know what else to do; some can't afford other resources; many if not most do it to get a short break. Is a child better off with 20 minutes of a baby video or 20 minutes with a stressed-out parent, who will do a much better parenting job after a shower, conversation with a grown-up, or rest?

Since they're watching, isn't it better that they watch something age appropriate? In the LA Times coverage of this study, Dmitri Christakis said kids would be better off watching "American Idol" than baby videos, because there's be some chance their parents would watch with them. That makes great copy, but wouldn't it be more helpful to parents to say:

"The key is parental involvement and interaction. If you let your baby watch TV or videos, watch along and talk about what you're seeing."

or

"A limited amount of carefully selected, age appropriate media, especially when supported with interaction from an adult caregiver, is fine for most kids."

Posted by: kidvidkid | August 9, 2007 4:02 PM | Report abuse

So sorry that I failed to dumb-down my comments for all you trolls. My kids watched the Baby Einstein DVDs for about 30 minutes each day while I got dinner ready. They got a kick out of it, and I got 30 minutes in which to cook without one on my hip and one attached to my leg. Get over yourselves.

Posted by: 2terrificboys | August 9, 2007 4:18 PM | Report abuse

"The key is parental involvement and interaction. If you let your baby watch TV or videos, watch along and talk about what you're seeing."

Duh! This is news?

Posted by: newhere | August 9, 2007 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I agree with SMG. These studies shouldn't be taken too seriously. I can probably hire another group of 'scientists' and have them come up with a study showing opposite results. All these studies attempt to do is scare parents into thinking they are doing something wrong. As every parent knows, I can raise two children EXACTLY the same way and they can still end up being different. Bottom line is that parents need to recognize what is best for their own kids, what works for you might not work for someone else. My son enjoyed the Baby Einstein DVDs while my daughter didn't and both are developing just fine.

Posted by: sillystudy | August 9, 2007 4:26 PM | Report abuse

I tend to disagree with those who cite the so-called overwhelming evidence that ANY tv for kids under two years old will destroy their brains. A recent study found that tv was more effective than motherly support at distracting children from the pain of certain medical procedures. Instead of this being interpreted as, finally, one POSITIVE thing TV could do for kids, the researchers interpreted it as yet more evidence that TV was BAD. Their reasoning was that this data showed that TV was too powerful! I think their conclusion shows that they were biased towards coming up with a negative conclusion about tv, no matter what the data said. This is how I think about all the anti-TV research. The conclusion has been determined before the research is performed.

Posted by: m | August 9, 2007 4:54 PM | Report abuse

"m" (11:59 am) and kidvidkid (4:02 pm) nailed it. Relax, people. You shouldn't need a study to tell you that parking your kid in front of the TV for a long time was a bad idea. And experience should tell you that letting your kid stare at blinking lights for 15 minutes is completely harmless. I swear, if a team of scientists recommended jamming a spoon up your kiester, half of you would wind up face down in the emergency room.

Posted by: New dad | August 9, 2007 5:18 PM | Report abuse

I believe the commentor that mentioned the apa meant the AAP (American Association of Pediatrics) and their recommendation of 0 tv time for children under age two.

Googling the aap and television will lead you to many sites that examine the research into the harm or lack there of from television.

The large study was likely in reference to:
Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children

Available online at: http://www.medialiteracy.net/pdfs/tvapril.pdf

Posted by: joe | August 9, 2007 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Why are people so threatened by the idea of anyone using different parenting methods than what works for them? It's hardly necessary to ask if someone's kids are retarded because their kids enjoyed something that is not your cup of tea. I would rather have my kids exposed to minimal amounts of TV than some of the judgmental, negative, and insulting know-it-alls who comment on this blog (or your kids, who will likely grow up to be just like mom or dad).

Posted by: ridiculous | August 9, 2007 6:42 PM | Report abuse

I think it's more complicated than they're making it. We used these to give my wife time to straighten dishes or shower in peace, and neither of our children had any trouble. Our 6yo tests at the 4th grade reading level, and our 2yo is using words like "Delicious" and speaking in long sentences. So I very seriously doubt they were permanently scarred by watching 15-20mins of Baby Einstein each day. If the parent puts the kid in front of the TV for 3 hours and never interacts with the child? Well of COURSE the kid will grow up a moron. As for us - it kept my wife from going insane.

Posted by: Todd | August 9, 2007 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Joe. From that study:

"We found that early exposure to television was associated with subsequent attentional problems. This finding was present even while controlling for a number of potential confounding factors, including prenatal substance use and gestational age, measures of maternal psychopathology, and socioeconomic status. The magnitude of the risk associated with television viewing, expressed in our analysis in terms of hours per day of television viewed, is clinically significant when one considers the full range of hours of television viewed in our sample (0-16). A 1-SD increase in the number of hours of television watched at age 1 is associated with a 28% increase in the probability of having attentional problems at age 7. This result is robust and stable over time--a similar effect size is obtained for the number of hours of television watched at age 3. To our knowledge, ours is the first study to test the hypothesis of very early television viewing on subsequent inattention using a nationally representative longitudinal sample."

Read the study. There are caveats, of course, and the authors acknowledge them. But this isn't the first study to link TV viewing to attention problems, and the Web is full of studies specifying that TV for kids under 2 (the "Baby Einstein" demo) is a big no-no.

If your kids watched TV and videos before age 2 and turned out to be above-average academics, more power to you. But please don't tell me that the gun in the cabinet isn't loaded, so it's OK for me to play with it, because it made your children savvier about the ways of the world.

Posted by: Discman | August 9, 2007 8:48 PM | Report abuse

South Loudounian writes: "My twins watched a little Baby Einstein when they were babies -- much of that at 2 AM when we were trying to get them to sleep or at least calm down."

This is exactly why people should pay attention to the research being done on television. Putting a child in front of a TV is exactly what you should NOT do when trying to get them to sleep (the same goes for adults for that matter). They may seem "calmer" as they become transfixed by the flashing lights, but the flashing lights stimulate the brain (not in an intellectual way -- they just increase brain activity).

Posted by: Thor | August 9, 2007 9:03 PM | Report abuse

They may not be bad, but just imagine how far along your child would be if you personally had spent that time with her/him!!!!!!

Posted by: educated mom | August 9, 2007 11:21 PM | Report abuse

Well educated mom, that is a very nice cliche and it sounds like a lovely scold but it means nothing. Many people who use videos spend a lot of time with their children but need a break. Probably those who spend the most time with their children need a break the most. Plus, it is supremely unhealthly to spend every moment with your child. How else are they going to learn to amuse themselves, process all the things they are learning, or just relax? I, for one, want my children to see me reading a book or the paper, cooking food, cleaning the house, interacting with other people, and interacting with them. Life is hard enough without everyone being so judgmental.

Posted by: smg | August 10, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Baby einstein is hardly evil. My daughter loved baby einstein. She learned animals, and words and she knows how to identify different musical sounds. She's 3 and extremely verbal. I agree with the previous comment. It's very hard work to care for a baby all day and night at home without breaks.

Try to remember - moderation. Not a bad thing. Worry about your own kids and let others make their own decisions for their families.

Posted by: BE mom | August 14, 2007 9:43 AM | Report abuse

"When I screened one of them for my son, he was compelled briefly, then lost interest. My beagle, on the other hand? Literally riveted to the screen."

Smart beagle...

Posted by: Tom | August 19, 2007 9:59 AM | Report abuse

oh please.

life is NOT a controlled experiment.

try living; using your common sense; and moving forward.

the notion that any single decision in child-rearing (or, life, for that matter) could be "RIGHT" or, heaven-forbid, "WRONG" -- is absurd.

Posted by: fedup | August 23, 2007 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I found the postings interesting. We have a solution in my house--we don't have a TV. We don't watch videos. Our 14-month old plays with toys and books. We read to her a lot. She takes a bath at night to calm her down before bedtime. When I need to cook, she plays with her toys or with the pots and pans on the floor in the kitchen. Life is simpler without a TV, I think. More sane. I don't have to worry about the impact of TV or commercials on my daughter.

Posted by: Tammy | August 25, 2007 4:16 PM | Report abuse

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