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 babyeinstein.com.
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.
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.
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