Parents Beat Themselves Up Over Disney's 'Baby Einstein' Recall

Disney will give refunds for the videos, which offer no educational benefit to toddlers and may in fact cause harm

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Somehow, a generation raised on treacly, Muzak-playing "Baby Einstein" DVDs have not yet cured baldness, invented personal jetpacks, or unified the theories of quantum mechanics and special relativity. As a result, after relentless pressure from anti-TV lobbying groups such as "Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood," Disney is now offering refunds for all "Baby Einstein" videos sold after 2004. The result: a blow to Disney's $200 million-a-year business, and a guilt-inducing announcement for the estimated one third of American parents who purchased the disks

How did this happen? The DVDs--once advertised as "educational"--were bound for trouble eventually. The American Academy of Pediatrics discouraged children under 2 from watching television--precisely the age bracket that "Baby Einstein" was targeting. Some writers are also suggest that it's parents, not Disney, who should feel ashamed because TV is no substitute for playing with infants.

  • How Could Parents Have Been Fooled? says LitBrit at Cogitamus. "Forgive me, but it's hard for me to understand these parents who apparently believed a DVD could make their babies smarter and now want refunds from Disney (and are getting them) because, lo and behold, their babies didn't turn out to be Einsteins after all. Good grief...Plunking children in front of the tube every day for extended periods of time seems counterintuitive, if not lazy. Instead, why not just read little books to your babies? Dance with the wee buggers and speak to them in different languages."
  • Culmination of a Long Campaign, writes Nell Minow at Beliefnet. Minow has waged a long campaign against "Baby Einstein." The company's deletion of the word "educational" from its packaging has not gone far enough, she says. "Of course, the name itself implies that the products increase knowledge or intellectual capacity. The academic studies show that what infants learn from watching a family member once takes them four times as long to absorb in a DVD...The only thing they learn from these DVDs is how to watch television."
  • Parents Should Recognize That Television Is Nothing But a Distraction, writes Brian Reid at the Washington Post. "No one -- I hope -- still labors under the Baby Einstein-fueled illusion that any television, no matter how well crafted or marketed, will actually leave kids better off. I'd be curious to see whether anyone takes Disney up on their offer Disney's retreat doesn't mean the end of TV for kids. As I write this, my children are happily camped out in the living room glued to the flickering screen, and I'm well aware that they'd be better off doing something else. But if it buys me a couple minutes of repose, I'm willing to accept that, especially as the kids get older."
  • The Understandable 'Allure of the Digital Babysitter,' says Rachel Emma Silverman at the Wall Street Journal. "We don't own any Baby Einstein videos and so far, our son, a year and a half, has never showed much interest in watching TV and videos--he's much more fascinated by playing with the remote than what's on the screen itself. So far, he's blissfully unaware of Elmo, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Dora and Diego. Still, like many busy parents, I can understand the allure of setting a child down in front of a video for a spell while, say, preparing dinner or making an important phone call."
  • Americans Don't Understand Genius, writes the editorial board of USA Today. "The popularity of Baby Einstein also reflects a misunderstanding about the true nature of genius. Just a little life experience, even a few days in a regular U.S. school, demonstrates that geniuses are usually born with innate gifts that no DVD can impart."
  • Bush Shouldn't Have Praised Baby Einstein, says Timothy Noah at Slate. Noah reminds readers that he criticized Bush's decision to single out "Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of the Baby Einstein Co., to sit by First Lady Laura Bush as President George W. Bush rhapsodized, in his State of the Union address, 'Julie represents the great enterprising spirit of America.'" Then he quips: "Sadly, no refund will be made available for the eight-year Bush presidency itself."
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