The Checkout

Baby Video Firms Come Under Fire

A child-advocacy group whose mission is to limit marketing aimed at children yesterday asked the federal government to bar Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby, two major baby-video companies, from promoting their products as educational and beneficial to child development.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, saying the two major baby-video companies should not be able to say their products inspire "logical thinking," foster "the development of your toddler's speech and language skills," or give "your child a jumpstart on learning." Read more of my story in today's Post. What do you think of the videos made by these companies?

By  |  May 2, 2006; 7:43 AM ET Legal Battles/Settlements
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Comments

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We were given a lot of these videos when our girls were young. Friends swore by them. Our daughter was overwhelmed by them until she was almost 1-- too much stimulation. After that she liked it but I tried to avoid them, since she just seemed to turn into a zombie in front of the TV.

I think most of these videos just give the parent a break, more than anything. If it helps save the caregiver's sanity to show a 20-minute show once a day, I think that's fine. I've seen in many houses, though, that these shows (or worse, just regular TV) is used as a babysitter. That's just terrible for the kids.

Posted by: Megan | May 2, 2006 8:37 AM

They turn the kids into ZOMBIES. My daughter would just sit there with her mouth open watching them. Parents like the videos because they are "baby sitters". Place your kid in front of them and go cook dinner. It is much harder to cook dinner while entertaining a child but there are many learning opportunites (counting, colors of items, tastes, etc) that can be integrated into everyday life that will work more effectively than videos.

Posted by: Momma Daria | May 2, 2006 9:26 AM

My 20 month old seems to enjoy these videos, but we try to limit his viewing to 10-20 minute increments, and only under supervised conditions. We don't use the video as a babysitter, just as a supplement to other activities, especially when the weather prohibits going outside. I agree with Megan's comment regarding overstimulation. My son wasn't interested in the videos at all before he turned one. I also agree that too many households use the videos as a crutch.

Posted by: Anon | May 2, 2006 9:26 AM

We began watching the age-appropriate Baby Einstein videos when my son was a few months old. He is now 3 1/2 and still loves to watch them. He's very advanced verbally and absolutely loves music - knows the names of many many instruments and performs "shows" for the family nightly. I'm convinced that the classical music played in the videos helped to develop his love of classical music.

Posted by: Anon | May 2, 2006 10:12 AM

Whine, whine, and more whine.....

It's as easy as not buying the darn video's. Why do things have to be so dramatic as to taking a company to court.

Ok, here's one for the whiner's (and it's real), if you care so much for the kids, how about going to court to get people to cut down on driving to work so the air will be cleaner for your kids to breath, how about the "big companies" that burn coal, now you're talking serious stuff. (Your definitely not getting it)

But for video's, not such a big deal...but for the air our children breath everyday, now thats a problem.

Come on whiners, get real, but I'm sure you're too scared to mess with the big corporations to save your child.

Thank you

Posted by: Frankey | May 2, 2006 10:20 AM

Someone gave my husband and me a Baby Einstein tape for our son when he was born, but he never seemed to show much interest in it. We allow our son to watch children's shows such as Sesame Street, Barney, Clifford, Dora the Explorer and Maisy for more than the amount of time recommended by pediatricians, but we have seen absolutely no detrimental effects. TV is supposed to make kids more easily distracted/induce ADD, but our son is extremely focused. TV is supposed to make kids fat and lazy, but my son has always been in the 50th percentile for both height and weight, and he is very active. The only trouble we have had is that one of my son's favorite programs frequently features commercials for yogurt, so he sometimes ask for yogurt when he sees the show.

In part thanks to children's TV shows, my son (now 3 1/2) can read numbers and the entire alphabet, write the first letter of his name (A), and reliably count up to 20 (Sesame Street's Count von Count never seems to go above that number....). He also loves to sing and pretend-play. I think videos and TV can be a good thing if you are very selective about what you allow your kids to watch. I must admit, though that it really helps to have a TiVo system because you have to take a break after each show when the recording ends.

Posted by: Split-Shift Mom | May 2, 2006 10:46 AM

Good grief! TV is not the devil, people! Baby Einstein programs are perfectly appropriate for young children. My kids love them, and I see nothing wrong with letting them watch these shows here and there throughout the day. SOMETIMES PARENTS NEED A BREAK AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT EITHER!! That said, there are many programs supposedly for children that I don't let my kids watch, because they tend to be violent or are just plain stupid. But don't pick on Baby Einstein . . .

Posted by: Chris | May 2, 2006 10:57 AM

Let's be truthful here, though. It can totally be abused. I have friends who have children who are only allowed to watch educational TV and Disney movies. But they watch them 5+ hours a day (they're 4 and 2). These boys cannot sit still to read a book and can't focus on an activity for more than 5 minutes. The parents say, "well, they're not really into books right now" and NEVER read to them! The older one will be in Kindergarten in the fall and I worry about how he will be able to handle it with no attention span. Yes, they know their letters, but if they can't sit still to hear a story how will they ever learn to read one?

Posted by: Megan | May 2, 2006 11:16 AM

I grewed up watching the three stuges for
stimulashion and did just fine thank you!

Posted by: Curly Einstein | May 2, 2006 12:14 PM

Everyone is missing the point. As parents it is YOUR responsibility to decide what is right for your child, not a court, a company. Conversely, it's not your decision to decide what is right for other children. Don't like Baby Einstein? Don't buy them. Think TV is bad for children? Don't turn it on. While it is a daunting reach for one to suggest that you go after the big companies, it is wise to look at the big picture here. There are much, much worse things that could affect your kids, than TV. Besides, isn't having a coalition of 'experts' deciding what's right for your kids a bit hypocritical? Who decided that they were the 'experts'? We, as Americans have lost our ability to think for ourselves. We now instinctively lean towards experts, popular thought and media rhetoric rather than conventional wisdom, gut instincts and common sense. If you don't have it, how will your kids?

Posted by: kegdoctor | May 2, 2006 12:47 PM

So, kegdoctor, these "educational" video companies can just put any kind of claims on their packaging, whether or not they're true?

That's the issue here, if you read the original article.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 2, 2006 12:57 PM

Just look at how much better American children are doing in math and science than the rest of the developed world since the advent of children's videos. We're producing so many more engineering graduates than China or India. Well at least parents get a break, and isn't that what it's all about- ensuring that parents aren't inconvenienced by having children?

Posted by: Homer | May 2, 2006 2:07 PM

I am in the camp that says if you are opposed to these videos then do not buy or rent them. What makes parents think that claims on kids products are any truer than those on product that we buy for ourselves. I could submerge myself in a vat of oil of olay and I still will not look like the model in the ad. Anyone who thinks that TV viewing is educational is deluding themselves. I watch TV for one purpose and one purpose only, entertainment. We allow our 3 year old to be entertained by TV for about 30 minutes a day and he is focused, verbal and loves to read books. He watched Baby Einstein DVDs when he was younger to no detriment but I never in my wildest imagination would believe that they were educational. They were entertainment so that I could shower.

Posted by: margaret | May 2, 2006 2:12 PM

We love the videos. Both of our children watch them -- our youngest, now 11 months old, doesn't take a whole lot of interest, and our three year still enjoys them, as she has since she was around 1 to 1.5 years. Both of our children love music and we limit all television for both of them. I believe that any kind of video with structured rhythm, pictures, and an educational lean is beneficial and can and could be labeled the way they are currently sold. Better than Bugs Bunny or Tom and Jerry, at least. I'll take this over what's on "normal Orwellian TV" -- which, as you can see, I don't like very much. And, of course TV makes "zombies" out of children -- There are pictures and sounds that they have never seen before. It's pure brain candy. That's why it should be limited, just like sweets. But making this a political statement about what a company can say is ridiculous. They don't say it about Mickey Mouse or Monsters Inc. I think it's smart marketing and actually hits the target, even if its not a bullseye.

Posted by: M. Szuch | May 2, 2006 2:47 PM

"Baby Einstein had no comment."

Great line.

Posted by: Emily | May 2, 2006 3:48 PM

I'm a stay-at-home mom with two preschool children (ages 3 1/2 and 21 months) who, gasp!, watch absolutely no television. That's right--no videos, DVDs, educational programming, etc. (We've decided on no-TV until each can read well, which is supported by recent studies.)

We find other things to do during the day. When I need a "break," I plop them down in front a stack of books, which they happily "read" for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Will my children miss out on something by not watching television? Not a chance. Anything TV can supposedly "teach" my children, I can certainly do it better--and probably more effectively, given that TV, videos and DVDs can't have a two-way conversation with the child.

Posted by: shamaker | May 2, 2006 4:03 PM

We don't have a tv, but do have a portable dvd player. We received a bunch of baby eingstein dvd's and I ended up tossing them because I thought they were inane, except for the one about shapes. We purchased a baby sign language series instead and let our kids watch those when we needed a break. They signed before they talked, so we rationalized the tv hours as justified because they may have helped avoid tantrums caused by communication problems.

But although I cant stand the baby einstein series, I'm with the crowd that says to let parents decide if its educational since it would be pretty hard to prove it either way.

Posted by: mom of tv deprived kids | May 2, 2006 4:40 PM

I was at a friend's house once when one of the Baby Einstein videos was on...I think it was Baby Beethoven, if there is such a thing. Anyway, it was supposed to be all about classical music, and the freaking thing was playing these dreadful, electronic beepy-boopy versions of classical music! They couldn't even use a real orchestra? What a lost opportunity to introduce kids to music!

Posted by: h3 | May 2, 2006 5:08 PM

If people don't have enough sense to realize it is a marketing tool then they deserve to have their money taken from them.

Posted by: Lauren | May 2, 2006 5:29 PM

We began watching the Baby Einstein videos when my daughter was a 5 months old. She is now 3 1/2. She is very advanced verbally and loves music. She attends a Montessori school and just received a great year end report. According to the teacher her language skills and her knowledge of the alphabet and numbers is very advanced. I am convinced that using these videos as an educational tool in our home has had a lot to do with her advance knowledge.

Posted by: Amy | May 2, 2006 5:36 PM

To the person who attacked kegdoctor because he/she was promoting parental responsibility I say this: you are missing the point of kegdoctor's opinion. If a child advocacy group goes after the promotional tactics of a company, who decides that the child advocacy group is correct in saying that the Baby Einstein people are lying/misleading, etc.? In theory Einstein Brothers Bagels could promote their bagels as learning tools because their products are shaped by the letter O AND the number zero. Would you decide that that your kid should be getting a bagel and a shmear because it will make them brilliant? The point remains: parents-- they are your kids and YOU are reponsible for their well being. Maybe they are visual learners and are good with television, maybe they are auditory learners and respond to the musings of Prairie Home Companion on NPR or maybe they are spatial/physical learners and need toys, blocks, books, even bagels to get them to learn at their optimal performance.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 2, 2006 7:56 PM

The article talked about the court case; the question at the top of this page asked what each of us thinks of the videos.

Just because somebody doesn't like Baby Einstein or thinks that kids shouldn't watch TV doesn't mean that they agree with the legal action.

Posted by: Krista | May 2, 2006 8:21 PM

People have been making all sorts of claims about miracle elixers since time immemorial.

We need to decide whether we're going to take personal responsiblility as consumers or whether we're going to blame others as groups such as the so-called "Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood" would have us do.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 4, 2006 10:12 AM

my daughter just turned two and already knows all her alphabet and numbers, and she never watched one single Baby Einstein video. Thus, her not watching them has made her twice as advanced as the rest of you peoples' children.

See the problem here? (besides the scientific fallacy of drawing large-scale conclusions based on a single, personal anecdote?)

These videos are marketed using scientific-sounding terms to create the aura of educational benefit, to play to parental competitiveness, and to overcome parental guilt for plopping their kid in front of the TV when they need a break. If those claims are demonstrably false or unfounded--and the AAP and plenty of other child development 'experts' say they are--then they should be called out on it.

As for Keghead's whine about "experts," yes, I would venture that pediatricians and professional child development researchers should be considered experts. And a parent who ignores advice BECAUSE it comes from experts is just as irresponsible as one who slavishly follows someone's advice without taking their own kid's situation into account.

Posted by: greg from daddytypes.com | May 4, 2006 10:30 AM

I grew up in a TV-free home and as soon as I had my own TV (after college) I watched 8-10 hours/day, sometimes more. I did fine in grad school, but I totally believe TV is like candy, in the sense that if it's forbidden, it becomes intensely appealing. I still have trouble controlling my TV intake, and I'm a successful, professional adult. I let my 2-year-old watch appropriate programs. He loves them, and I hope he'll grow up feeling that they're just one of many nice parts of life.

Posted by: madeleine | May 4, 2006 2:35 PM

Greg from daddytypes is correct--a lot of the comments above are attempts to generalize from personal experience and miss the point of the article. Personally, I grew up without TV until I was older (because we didn't have one early in the fifties) and I STILL hardly ever watch TV--never developed the habit. So which is a better example of being raised without TV, me or the person above who watches 8-10 hours a day because she was deprived? We're both just individual examples, not general rules.

Probably small amounts of "educational" video-viewing by 1-3 year olds is not going to be an issue. The issue is that naive, possibly less educated, parents who do NOT read the Washington Post are going to buy these videos believing they are "GOOD" for the baby. I recently heard a hairdresser say approvingly that her 3-month-old grandbaby is being raised on these Einstein videos because they are good for her. That's what the video says, and that's what she and the baby's mother believe. Come on, all you judgmental people, don't you think this baby should be protected from its relatives' lack of awareness of this controversy?

Posted by: Grandma | May 4, 2006 4:58 PM

Just to clarify, although the article says that CCFC "sues" baby video companies, I believe they actually submitted a formal complaint to the FTC. In fact, only the FTC can decide to investigate and then puruse the claim, the CCFC is not in court over this.

I agree whole-heartedly with "Grandma." And, I'd like to point out that these videos are marketed for 3 month olds! Some from "birth and up"! It's just plain wrong to put a poor innocent newborn in front of a TV screen, regardless if you think it's going to make him/her smarter. And unfortunately I think some parents out there do it because they are duped by this pervasive advertising screen that these videos are helpful, or at the very least not harmful

Posted by: dc108 | May 6, 2006 7:34 AM

I allow my daughter to watch the Your Baby Can Read DVDs twice a day. At one year she can read approx. two dozen words. So, yes, it is true that kids can learn from TV. I always watch with her and I sing, do the actions and point things out to her.

TV watching can either be a good thing or a bad thing. Of course, watching hours of TV everyday is bad. But reading books for hours each day would also be bad.

If kids are going to be stuck in front of the TV for hours each day, it is better that they be watching Baby Einstein or some other educational show, rather than something noneducational. I find it troubling that the CCFC is going after companies making educational or uplifting shows for kids rather than the companies making violent cartoons and the like.

Posted by: Mil | May 8, 2006 5:00 PM

Just as a reminder to all of you well meaning mothers out there....wake up and smell the coffee. The American Association of Pediatrics released a study about a year or two ago stating that it was not in the best interest of the child to let them view ANY television before 2 years of age. It affects their development. Squashes the creativity.
Of course Disney Corp. wants to convince you all that Baby Einstein is an educational tool. That's how they make $$$. Don't be such sheeple people! My best advice is to throw that TV out! I got rid of mine 12 years ago, and now I have a baby daughter, and will not be getting a TV. We do fine. TV is for lazy minds. Don't create a lazy mind numbed baby that loves screens!

Posted by: April | May 12, 2006 3:04 PM

April,

The AAP recommendation was not based on any research showing that small amounts of tv are bad for kids. Go read their recommendation. They don't point to any studies but just say it is better for infants to be interacting with adults. But based on that logic it is bad if a baby watches a mobile, looks through books or plays with toys by him/herself because there is no adult interaction going on.

Whether TV is good or bad depends on how it is used. TV in and of itself is not bad. I watch the news every evening and I often watch documentaries, so I have to disagree with your lazy mind comment. TV can be very informative and stimulating.

Posted by: Mil | May 12, 2006 3:25 PM

A child-advocacy group whose mission is to limit marketing aimed at children yesterday asked the federal government to bar Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby, two major baby-video companies, from promoting their products as educational and beneficial to child development.
I do not agree.For more info go to System.String[]

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