Baby Einstein videos have been popular among parents and children alike for more than a decade now. A survey cited recently by The New York Times found that one-third of all American babies from 6 months to 2 years old had at least one Baby Einstein video.
Titles like Baby Mozart, Baby Shakespeare and Baby Galileo have enticed parents to purchase Baby Einstein products to educate young children and encourage advanced development. But there is some debate as to how educational these products really are.
A recent study of 900 children found that there is no evidence of cognitive benefit from watching TV during the first 2 years of life. In fact, baby DVDs may actually be damaging to young development. A 2007 study led by Frederick Zimmerman and Dr. Dimitri Christakis, both at the University of Washington, found that infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words for every hour of baby DVDs that were watched than babies who never watched any videos. The most detrimental effect was seen in babies between 8 and 16 months old.
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend any TV screen time for young children under the age of two. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC) also wants parents to avoid plopping children down in front of a television set. The organization has been leading an ongoing campaign against deceptive baby video marketing for several years.
In 2006, the organization issued a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby, two of the leading producers of videos for infants and toddlers, for making false claims about the educational merit of videos. The FTC decided not to take action against Baby Einstein because the company agreed to 'take appropriate steps to ensure that any future advertising claims of educational and/or developmental benefit for children are adequately substantiated.' In other words, the company agreed not to call their videos 'educational.'
Unhappy with the FTC's decision, the CCFC continued their campaign, pressuring the Walt Disney Company (owner of Baby Einstein) to offer full refunds to people who purchased Baby Einstein videos in the last five years. Walt Disney has finally agreed to do just that.
The company will refund the current retail value of the DVD ($15.99) to anyone who purchased a Baby Einstein video between June 5, 2004 and September 4, 2009. Refunds are limited to four per household. Consumers who do not want a refund can trade their DVDs in for a Baby Einstein book or music CD. Twenty-five percent off coupons are also being offered to people who want to exchange their DVD for a discount on Little Einstein products purchased from DisneyStore.com.
'We see it as an acknowledgment by the leading baby video company that baby videos are not educational, and we hope other baby media companies will follow suit by offering refunds,' said Susan Linn, director of the CCFC.
Read more about the Baby Einstein refund.
If baby DVDs do not increase a child's intellect, what does? According to Stanley Greenspan, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at George Washington University Medical School in Washington, D.C. and the author of Building Healthy Minds, newborns to preschoolers need multiple types of interaction with a caregiver to grow intellectually.
He recommends activities that exercise multiple senses at once, establishing two-way communication and engaging in activities that build intimacy, trust and creativity. Greenspan says that these activities can be enhanced with educational toys and media, but insists that parents should not rely entirely on DVDs to encourage a baby's development.