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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Your baby is not Einstein

Ruth Graham writes about the rise and fall of Baby Einstein on Slate.

A Colorado mother shot the first video for her child in 1996. “Five years later, she sold the company to Disney for a reported $25 million,” reports Graham. In 2009, “Disney was forced to admit that the videos had no educational value and offered full refunds to parents who had bought them.” It “was like something out of Baby Shakespeare,” Graham concludes.

“Baby Einstein” videos — later “Baby Mozart,” “Baby Galileo,” “Baby Van Gogh” and “Baby Shakespeare” — featured “toys, puppets, and simple shapes set to snippets of music and poetry,” writes Graham. By 2002, the New York Times estimated that a third of American babies between 6 months old and 2 years old had at least one of the company’s videos.

In retrospect, this was a golden era of screen time for the very young. Producers were offering increasingly sophisticated products targeted specifically at very young children. Teletubbies, a show intended for children as young as 1, premiered in the United States in 1998. Other productions made explicit claims that they would make babies smarter. “It’s true!” the Baby Genius series reassured parents, “Classical music and powerful images stimulate your child’s brain.” Your Baby Can Read!, a $200 program of DVDs and books, promised that children as young as 9 months old could be on their way to literacy.

It wasn’t true. Studies showed that “for every hour babies watched Baby Einstein videos, they knew 6–8 fewer words than their peers,” writes Graham. (Also, your baby could not read.) After offering parents refunds, Disney sold Baby Einstein in 2013.

Now, some parents see screen time as a threat to their children’s development, not an accelerator, writes NPR’s Anya Kamenetz in a story about screen time.

Ninety-eight percent of households with children 8 and under, rich and poor, now have access to a mobile device, such as a tablet or smartphone. That is up from 52 percent just six years ago, according to a nationally representative parent survey from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization.

The Wait Until 8th pledge urges parents not to give their children a smartphone until the end of middle school, reports Kamenetz.

Psychologists are studying screen addiction.

However, a recent study “found small links between moderately higher screen use and the children’s good moods,” she writes. Limiting screen time didn’t help kids.

Kamenetz is the author of a parenting book, The Art of Screen Time.

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