Your Baby's Genius NOT Due to Baby Einstein

By Danelle Frisbie © 2010

You may have a little genius at your house. But if you do, it likely is not the result of any Baby Einstein videos s/he has viewed growing up. Disney recently made the decision to offer a refund for Baby Einstein DVDs purchased between June 5, 2004 and September 4, 2009. Up to 4 DVDs (valued at $15.99 each) will be refunded per household. Full details of the refund can be viewed at

The refund offer comes on the heels of recent findings by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) that the Baby Einstein claim to increase intellectual growth in infants and toddlers doesn’t hold water in real life. Babies who spent time sitting in front of their parent’s television (or vehicle DVD players) watching Baby Einstein show no improvement in childhood I.Q. over those who have not spent time watching the videos.

In fact, the CCFC states that NO television or video viewing is beneficial for the rapid brain development occurring in babies under the age of 3. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) echoes the CCFC by stating that children 2-years-old and younger should not watch any television or videos. Even among older children, passively watching television (even educational or informative videos) acts upon the brain in a sedating manner. Neurons fire less, there is less frontal lobe activity, and learning is stifled. This may not be something that is fun to hear in a society that designs its home arrangements around the big screen television. Nevertheless, numerous studies (both quantitative clinical trials and qualitative research) have demonstrated that advanced brain activity and passive television viewing simply do not go together. When there is one, you do not see the other.

The Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle has collaborated studies conducted since 2004 that demonstrate just how impacting passive viewing is for tots. For every 1 hour of television viewed per day by preschoolers, their likelihood of developing concentration problems and other attention-deficit ‘disorders’ by the age of 7, increases by 10%. This is quite significant. Obviously, even if we do what we can to avoid the violence and sexism that is ubiquitous in television programs (children’s included) we still do a disservice to our kids when we plop them down in front of the screen.

So when might video viewing be appropriate?

While I am not sure that the CCFC would agree with me, there is neuro-science research that suggests if a toddler is going to be forced to passively sit (say in a car or on a plane) for more than 1 hour without stimulation or the ability to move around much, it would be optimal to be engaged in some sort of lap play with mom or dad (or another family member/friend). However, if this is absolutely not possible for a portion of the trip, and all forms of self-stimulating play have been exhausted, watching a Baby Einstein (or a CQCM recommended video) is going to be more beneficial to baby than screaming, crying, fussing, or otherwise being bored out of their mind. (1) Although the evidence is conclusive that video viewing is never beneficial for mental development – it may be the lesser of two ‘evils’ for the brain in cases where frustration and boredom are the only alternative. The same is not applicable for an older child who is capable of reading/writing/drawing/coloring or playing critical thinking/imagination/word games solo or with others in the vehicle.

playing with "The Toddler Tote"

Ideas for toddler activities (little ones under the age of 3) include: The Toddler Tote, small hand-held planes/boats/cars/animals, small activity books with sturdy pieces that move such as The Busy Airport or The Busy Beach and skills practice books such as My Quiet Book, ABC Animal Train, Where's My Bone, and Lullaby & Goodnight. With these books, toddlers can practice their snapping, buttoning, zipping, matching, moving, spinning, texture differentiation, and color identification skills. Not to mention, stretch their imagination.

The Coalition for Quality Children's Media (CQCM) does have recommendations for programs that appear to be beneficial to children IF they are going to be viewing programs in the first place. To browse their programs by age, view their Kids First website.

What is even better for a child’s mental, physical, emotional and social development? Ditching the television/videos altogether and getting involved in creative, active play instead – outdoors as much as possible.

In his direly needed book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit-Disorder, chairman of the Children & Nature Network, Richard Louv, states that, “activities indoors, such as watching TV, or outdoors in paved, non-green areas, increase children’s [attention deficit disorder] symptoms.” (2) At the same time, researchers at the Human-Environment Research Laboratory in Illinois have found that when children are simply outside in green (natural) spaces their creative play improves, they demonstrate more positive social interactions with each other and with adults, and their symptoms of attention-deficit disorder are relieved. Nature appears to be a powerful healer indeed.

In a 2001 study, Terry Hartig (professor of applied psychology, University of Gavle, Sweden) and colleagues demonstrated that just being outside in nature enables humans (kids included) to recover from typical day-to-day psychological wear and tear on the body and brain. In addition, they found that being outdoors and engaged in the natural world around us improves cognitive functioning and the ability to pay attention. (3)

Maybe we’d do our kids some good if we take our Disney's Baby Einstein refund $$ and invest it in some camping gear for the little ones. Visit a local farm. Take a day-trip to the beach or the woods or the mountains. Romp around in the cornfield. Hike down to the creek at the end of your block. Get out and see and touch and feel and experience all those animals and nature scenes that Baby Einstein films and sets to music. After all, the ocean is always a bit more majestic, the grass looks greener and smells sweeter, the stars are a touch more sparkling, the farm animals more interesting, and the beach alive with fun, when we actively indulge using all our senses instead of just passively watching scenes unfold on the screen before us.


1) Sunderland, M. (2006). The Science of Parenting. DK Publishing: New York.

2) Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods. Algoquin Books: New York.

3) Clay, R. (2001). "Green Is Good for You." Monitor on Psychology. Volume 32, No. 4


  1. Love this. Thank you. And kudos to Baby Einstein for offering to refund its videos!

  2. Our NCT teacher told us to put the baby in front of the tv when you need a break. I reacted in shock and was shouted down. So glad to be validated. Great article. I also SERIOUSLY recommend Sue Palmer's Toxic Childhood.

  3. Fantastic. gee what a novel idea..taking your children to the beach or out to the woods. I can tell you my ADHD clears up when I go outside and I'm 31!!

    Good article keep up the good work!

    -Doulas for a better future!

    - Doc

  4. Great post and good resources. Thanks! You might be interested in this follow-up to the Baby Einstein refund: Parents are suing because they don't think the refund follows California's consumer protection laws

  5. Lovely article and pictures, D.

  6. Okay, so my kid watches TV. I kept her away from it until past age one (you'd be surprised how many two-month-olds are parked in front of the TV) and wanted to go past age two. But I am not the only influence in her life. She has a grandmother, a father, play-dates at friends houses, etc. I decided of all the battles I am fighting- about her nutrition, about her health, about gentle parenting methods, about the blond-haired, blue-eyed, anorexic barbie's she keeps receiving, and many more that it was just impossible to fully win the TV battle. We don't have a TV in our house anymore, but she watches a fair amount of TV at Grandmas. She used to be so addicted I wanted to pull my hair out. Now, it's not so bad. She is two. She is an outside junkie, a lover of animals, and a great independent and imaginative player. I can't for the life of me convince my mother that my daughter doesn't need the television to learn. Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, Go Diego Go, some Disney Movies, and sometimes Classical Baby. Husband mainly is just a TV and media junkie himself and thinks it's fine because she enjoys it. So, she enjoys it. And usually, it's not very much. Although I am occasionally very dismayed that she watched a lot of TV at Grandmas because "everyone was busy," I also know that my parents are super-engaging and playful so much of the time. There are also ten acres here that she loves to explore. I just have to make some concessions. This kind of made me feel like crap that she wasn't in a completely TV-Viewing free zone until age 3, and far from it. Not one of the moms saying this induced mommy guilt so you shouldn't have written it. You should have. But I just wanted to say that's how it made me feel.

  7. This is one area where I know the research, but failed in the 2nd year of my child's life in mothering in a manner I knew was best... Oh, if we only lived in connected communities of mothers where we could help each other out so we could each shower, work out, prep healthy foods, and get work done w/out relying on 'baby videos' to keep little ones occupied... It is 1 of 2 things I feel terrible about (and I'm the author of this article)...

  8. "For every 1 hour of television viewed per day by preschoolers, their likelihood of developing concentration problems and other attention-deficit ‘disorders’ by the age of 7, increases by 10%."

    I'm assuming this is an average, not an additive thing, right? I was a little confused about this sentence.

    The problem we have is the same as a lot of people: I can be as high-minded as I want about seriously limiting my son's TV exposure but, like another poster said, he still has a father/grandparents/occasional babysitter/uncles/etc.

    If I want him to develop secure relationships with these people, I have to allow him to spend time with them. This may or may not involve watching TV, and I can't control what someone else does in my absence or in his/her own home (this is also why we're very picky about those with whom we leave him).

    I can request no screen time but, ultimately, I think the benefit of him building relationships with his family outweighs the risk of a small amount of TV every once in a while.

    Also, I like to think none of this counts when a little one is sick. Just my rationalization for Shrek when someone has the flu.

  9. MommaLane, dump the guilt. You are doing the best you can and that's all anyone can ask of you. You are human, like every other mother in the world. Television (along with computer and video games) is one of the things I am able to control with my children, so I am very strict. My toddlers never watch, my older children rarely and only under certain circumstances (and yes, I absolutely will allow a miserable, sick child to watch telly--they fall asleep!).

    That said, there are plenty of other areas that I have far less control of and it bothers me, but I just do the best I can. I simply cannot afford to feed my children the best of organic food, for example, though we still strive to provide them with the most nutritious food possible. I am not thrilled with the quality of my younger children's education and believe homeschooling would be the best for my children, but am not allowed to because it is illegal in my country. I KNOW this is to my ADHD son's detriment, but I do the best I can with what I have for him.

    To wrap this long-winded post up, my point is, do the best you can for your child and don't beat yourself up over those things you don't have as much control over. The guilt won't help you or your child. Wow, you got rid of your telly? Good for you!! As strict as I am about telly, we still own one. Even if my husband would agree to get rid of it (not a chance), I'm not sure I'd want to. So there you go. ;-)

  10. @MommaLane - Don't have Mommy-guilt! My theory is everything in moderation, it sounds like your kid has plenty of interaction and outside time. I don't think TV should be an all-or-nothing thing, in moderation most things are OK. Sometimes being so strict and saying "I will never let my kids watch TV" will cause your kids to rebel in the long wrong.- just think about how much you want something when you can't have it - it's human nature (hello? why most diets don't work! You know you want that chocolate cake even more when you can't have it!)

  11. Ugh. This one is so tough. It seems like I'm fighting battles on so many different fronts (I've got my suit of armor hanging in my closet for daily use). This battle is no exception! But it's not an easy one to fight. I think the hardest part of keeping television from your toddler is that an immediate "fix" when you're about to lose your mind or when you just need a few minutes. And yes, I know, there are other ways to deal with all of that--engage and reflect upon what's more important, the dishes or your child--I KNOW that. But I still choose to do a little victory dance when we didn't put the TV on all day long, which (thankfully) is most days lately). And my husband really enjoys a weekly family movie (our daughter is almost 3). I'm sure it's not completely benign, but I can't help but think that giggling and dancing to a movie and talking about it and then reenacting it in our living room afterwards is not the WORST thing in the world. But apparently I'm just kidding myself...

  12. I think some TV isn't bad. I think when its used as a baby sitter (especially for little babies) its harmful. My son does watch some TV (he is 2 years old). My son doesn't like to play independently, and there are times when I need to do bills or office work and we sit on the couch and he watches TV as I work on the computer. That way he can be close to me so he's not upset, and he's not bored. I try to make it educational for him. He points out shapes and objects and I confirm and talk to him about whats going on. For example, he likes Curious George and points out stars, big clock, monkey sad, elephant hug, fall water, train, etc. Sometimes if the TV is on in the background he'll walk by and point out things like the MAcy's commercial has a star. It's not like my kid is in another room alone sitting there zoned out...We're talking and he's climbing all over me at the same time. I think you also have to take into context that there's a possibility one doesn't cause the other in these studies. For example, a parent who uses TV as a crutch is less likely over all to be an involved parent. I think parents can use TV moderately and not ruin their kids as long as they aren't ignoring their kids all day or even while they are watching it.

  13. Wow! This is such a big topic to many with young children. Like many, I started out convinced I would never use the TV to 'get a break' from my children. I have a 2 and a 3 year old. I cracked when I had a newborn and a 17 month old who needed me too, was on no sleep, and I had no grandparents around to help me. I was racked with guilt, and still am when it goes on now. But the guilt lessens when I see how beautifully my girls play outside in nature, and when I see how brilliant they are. There eyes work perfectly too. I think there are so many things we could be scared of in the world, but moderate use of television isn't one of them. I don't believe parents are thinking they will achieve "advanced brain activitiy" from their child when they plop them in front of the telly either. It doesn't mean advanced brain activity can't occur 5 minutes later when they run outside to explore and play when an adult says "TV time is done". I am an Early Childhood and Primary School Teacher, but full-time parent first, and I have studied the research too. I have also read a lot about post natal depression. I will choose even an hour of TV for my toddlers over me yelling in frustration at them or crying tired tears in front of them, if I can just sit, get at least one job done and take a few deep breaths. I will always slip the sarong back over the big evil machine so it can 'go back to sleep' (not sure how long this trick will work), whisper a quiet 'thank you' and take my girls out to run and play.



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