Disney to give back money parents spent on Baby Einstein videos

By media expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) at Children’s Hospital Boston.

The Walt Disney Company has acknowledged that Baby Einstein does not teach anything nor does it promote better brain development in your infant. In the face of the scientific research and strong public advocacy on the part of the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, they are offering a full refund to any parent who has bought a Baby Einstein DVD in the last five years.

For seven years, the CMCH at Children’s has been conducting, compiling, and translating a growing body of research evidence that demonstrates that infants and toddlers do not benefit from screen media such as television and computers. The best science available shows that children cannot reliably learn anything from an electronic screen until about 30 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended since 1999 that screen media be discouraged for children under 2 years old. Despite this, a plethora of screen media from Teletubbies to Brainy Baby to Baby Einstein have been marketed to parents with claims that they will teach your infant words, colors and other concepts. Encouraged by unsupported marketing claims and even the titles of these videos, parents have bought hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infant videos, hoping to give their infant a head start by building a brain like Einstein.

The evidence collected by the CMCH Database of Research demonstrates that this is anything but true. Not only do babies who watch infant videos not show any evidence of improved cognitive development or learning, but one study shows language delays among 8-16 month olds of six to eight words per hour of infant videos watched. CMCH research does show that appropriate amounts of well-designed educational TV programs can improve language skills, reading, math, and school readiness among preschoolers.

These advantages persist in form of higher grades, greater creativity, more reading, placing higher value on achievement, and less anxiety and aggression among high school seniors who watched educational TV during their preschool years. Unfortunately, all that videos teach infants is to watch TV – and CMCH has a large and growing body of evidence linking early TV watching to increased risks for obesity, attention problems, school difficulties, sleep disturbances and anxiety.

While research dedicated to keeping healthy kids healthy and optimizing their physical, mental and social development is usually doing its work “below the radar,” this is a tangible example of the knowledge generated and translated by CMCH directly benefiting the well-being of children and their families. CMCH was founded to provide the research evidence to support parents making informed choices for their growing children. It offers direct open source access to its Database of Research and translates the research into actionable strategies for children and their parents negotiating a media-saturated world. It makes these resources available for free on the CMCH Web site , the monthly parent-directed newsletter and through Facebook and Twitter. If you have questions about your own child’s media use, CMCH offers the new online advice column, Ask the Mediatrician.

If you have a Baby Einstein video bought anytime in the last five years, return it to Disney to demonstrate that you care about your child’s healthy development and wish to invest your money in ways that promote his or her healthy development.

Read a recent post by Dr. Rich about in utero learning—a new trend in “smart baby” products.

Read a story from a Children’s publication about Baby Einstein and other misconceptions about media and children.

Read a news release on a study from earlier this year finding that TV viewing before the age of 2 has no cognitive benefit.