penelope and bumblebee

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I Hate Baby Einstein

I do. I just completely offended a coworker (sorry, it was nothing personal) by stating so when the subject came up, as after I had told her why I do, her only response was ‘well, my nephews love it.’
Well, my baby loves eating sand but that doesn’t mean that it’s good for her, or that I'm going to let her.

So, time to back it up (using my own un-scientific opinions based on lots of stuff I’ve read, intuited [word?] and experienced):

Uno, I think that television is not good for kids, but particularly not good for babies under the age of two. Childhood obesity is on the rise in Canada, and rampant in the US. Perhaps an alternative to having to use so many resources trying to re-educate, retrain and restructure a family’s life (and much of society in general) to undo this disturbing trend, is to put some of those resources towards prevention. As in, mandating healthy food be served in schools, unhealthy food be labeled with warnings, health and physical education be part of every school’s curriculum, and more after-school, summer and family-friendly activities be subsidized or better yet, free. Encourage families to eat together, at the table. Honey, We’re Killing the Kids, with its disturbing scare tactics and personalityless ‘doctor’, should not be a primary source of education. oh yeah, and turn the damn tv off.

Dos, tv is not good for a developing child’s brain. Until the age of 2, a child’s brain is at its spongiest. They need to interact, explore, unearth, question and discover the world around them. TV, even videos sold under the perilously thin guise of being ‘educational’, encourages completely passive attention. Sitting and staring at images flashing by at a frenetic speed does not help fuse synapses, and has been seen to impede the development of language, motor skills, social skills and healthy sleeping habits. I won’t even get into the toxic world of violent images.

Tres, commercials are not good for children or parents. And Baby Einstein videos are nothing but 35-minute long commercials, for the toys they feature and for other Baby Einstein videos. Marketing to children is bad news. Not only does it gear a child up to become a consumer-driven, status hungry, wasteful adult, but it turns them into brats. It makes a parent’s efforts to teach their child about wants vs. needs, the value of things and money, and how not to have a tantrum in a public place over some crap that’s going to be broken or forgotten by the next day, very difficult indeed. Kids will learn about commercialism from other kids, in the schoolyard, daycare, etc. Do they really need to be armed with that knowledge before they’re even potty-trained?

Quattro, the production value of the Baby Einstein videos is so low that it is insulting. My husband being a television editor (ironically), they would be banned from my house for that reason alone. Not ironically, I work for a great company that makes great music and dvds for adults and kids (not babies), with no untoward promises of kiddy intellect greatness, although we do retain a panel of experts to make sure that what we produce for children is appropriate. So I know what can be produced and sold for $15. Now, let’s get something straight – I am not trying to boost the cache of my company. I won’t even tell you who they are, or say that our stuff is made with care and integrity and everybody else’s is shit. Just trust me when I say that the money disney is making off of the sale of these dvds (based on the production value and quantity produced) is insanity. And mickey doesn’t need your bucks. He needs a good art director.

Cincqo (sp?), Baby Einstein markets itself as educational, good for babies, a tool for parents. Is watching an image of a toy really better than playing with one? Is some unknown, unseen person’s hand manipulating the on-screen toy really a good substitute for your own? Is watching ‘music’ being made on the tube better than a child discovering their own rhythm and song in the vast array of ‘instruments’ around them? Is looking at some other mother’s face really better than looking at you? Also, I think that these claims falsely inflate a parent’s expectation of their child’s intellectual development. What happens if, despite hours spent watching, playing with and listening to educational ‘tools’, your kid walks later than other babies. Or talks later. Or can’t get the rings onto the base even though your sister’s baby can. Or does kinda lousy in school. Will that parent be disappointed, and if so, will it be in the child?

Listen, the tv in my house is not always off when my baby is around (I watch my share, but it is after bee is in bed, because really, until then, what’s the point?). I understand the need to park her there sometimes, dear god, so I can just finish getting her breakfast ready, or have her stop squirming so that I can just do up the diaper already without turning these things into half-an-hour ordeals because my munchkin won’t let go of my leg or leave the cat (or cat food) alone. Sometimes I just have to go pee. Sometimes I just need the entrancing, enchanting, all-encompassing lure of the tube for a few minutes so that I can get some food in me.
But I don’t put on baby einstein videos, or any tv show with commercials. Public television where I live is great; all morning they show ‘kids’’ shows that are anywhere from 5-15 minutes in length, and I sometimes employ this station for a few minutes. We’ve even sat and watched zaboomafoo together, because bumblebee loves the animals, and I love the kratt brothers.

I’m not saying that my house will be a tv-free zone, though my hubs in particular would love it to be. Not sure I’m ready to give up so you think you can dance or 90210 reruns yet. But we do try to strike a balance, set limits and strive to be good role models insofar as how we spend our leisure time. But, you bet your ass that my house is a Baby Einstein-free zone, and I bet the real Einstein would be glad.

*For more, and more eloquent, information on this subject, check out Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and this article previously published in Mothering magazine, or the plethora of information out there from real experts on the subject.


  • At 5:28 PM, Blogger metro mama said…

    I'm with you on this. As you know, we have one TV and no cable (we'd have no TV if BP had his way).

    Cakes doesn't watch any tv.

    One more complaint about BE: the floating arms that don't appear to be attached to a body are just creepy.

  • At 11:26 AM, Blogger sunshine scribe said…

    I hate (or maybe I am jealous) that such a badly produced, simple concept that encourages children to watch TV so young made that blond woman a zillionare.

    But I know that is clearly beside the point. I am not a purist. I let me son watch TV (even a BE video) if I want to get a shower in. But it is less than 15 minutes a day. As a result at age 5 he has very little interest in TV and prefers to play rather than watch others play.

    Great post.

  • At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Jocelyn said…

    I hate Baby Einstein too.

    But we love, love, love Elmocize with an undying passion.

  • At 10:08 AM, Blogger bubandpie said…

    Oooh, controversy! I'll chime in on the other side. There are some programs on PBS or TVO or Treehouse that I really love: Charlie & Lola is my favourite (and I'll watch that one on my own, even when Bub and Pie are not around), but at any given time there may be other shows on those stations that I don't love. Some of them are a bit to loud and frantic, and the all-time worst show is Arthur, which seems to have the sole purpose of inspiring children with ideas they really are better off not having (i.e. the episode where the daughter learned to overcome her classist repugnance for her father's job as a garbage collector).

    So I tend to throw in the BE on occasions where TV is required because I like the slow, quiet pace and Bub loves the animals (we have all the animal-related ones: Baby Noah, Baby MacDonald, Neighbourhood Animals, World Animals). Obviously "required" is a loaded word, but what I mean is, I use the videos in situations where the alternative is screaming - to calm Bub down when he's got a diaper rash and doesn't want me to change his diaper, or when he wakes up badly from an afternoon nap, in which case the video must be accompanied by juice AND a blankie.

    I'm not under the impression that TV is good for my children, or that there is any real developmental value in using it. But not everything we do is good for us. I eat more chocolate than is good for me. I probably read more blogs than are good for me. So, within reason, I'm going to allow my children to watch TV, if only for the pleasure of watching them dancing side by side, pointing and laughing, with Bub calling out the names of the animals he sees. There are worse things in life than that.

  • At 10:40 AM, Blogger SpeakEasy said…

    I agree!

    Our Happy Boy is 18 months old and has watched maybe a total of 2 hours of TV in his little life. No need. I'd rather he learn to play outside and use his imagination, kind of like we did as kids, you know, before there were 800 channels on the TV.

  • At 5:29 PM, Anonymous Offended Co-Worker?? said…

    As the "Offended CoWorker" I have to say that a) you certainly drama'd up the "incident"; b) you totally did not offend me - everyone is entitled to their opinion, right?; c) I have no kids and have only ever observed the nephews plopped in front of the BE while their mother manages being the mother of 3 BOYS; and d) having no kids of my own, does my opinion even matter? It certainly is not educated!!!
    Give me some time - maybe if I have a kid, I will actually form an opinion of my own!!!

  • At 11:27 PM, Blogger penelopeto said…

    me? drama something up? surely you jest, offended co-worker.

    if anybody wonders why i love my job, it is because i sit next to real cool people.

  • At 8:56 AM, Anonymous Naomi said…

    Wow. You said this much better then I ever could. My son (18 months) does not watch television. We do own 2 or 3 of the Baby Einstein programs. He's watched only one of them, I think twice.

    He was very young, and we put it on. He sat there, mesmerized. It kinda freaked me out how he reacted, actually - how can sitting there STARING be good for a child?

    Instead, he plays with puzzles, blocks, cups. If I'm trying to cook, he's in the room beside me playing with his trains or other toys. He's really good about it.

    The only other program I've watched with him is Pocoyo. Short programs, with very simple claymation like characters. We watched a couple of episodes while waiting for daddy to come home from hockey!

    It's funny how some people look at me when I tell them that The Happy Boy doesn't watch any tv!

  • At 12:04 AM, Blogger scarbie doll said…

    My husband is also a TV Editor. We also don't like Baby Einstein. But I agree with Bub and Pie -- Charlie and Lola is wicked good, and my 18 month-old Nate is kinda, sorta into Dora. Like Metro Mama, we don't have cable. We don't watch TV everyday, but sometimes it's easier to get his shoes on if he's sucked into the box for a few minutes. I am not a fan of TV for babies, but I grew up fully babysat by the TV (my sis and I are 16 months apart) -- it was the only way my mom could take care of both of us and get dinner ready. And I turned out to be pretty smart.

    All I'm saying is that we do what we do to get by. TV in itself is not what's wrong here, abuse of it is. Parents leaving their children in front of a video for hours on end, with the assumption that it is actually good for them (Baby Einstein) is the worst part.

    You may enjoy this article based on a CBC report that shows Baby Einstein has no scientific evidence to prove its any more educational than crack.

  • At 2:01 PM, Blogger Pollen8 said…

    You know what I hate most about baby einstein? Is the fact that you have to press play twice between long intervals to get the mindless drivel to play, and then I have to endure it with my enraptured 2yr old as she insists on 'daddy too'


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