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Baby Einstein Gets a Spanking

When I was kid, we ate Wonder Bread because it “built strong bodies in 12 ways.” Mom didn’t count; she just took it on faith. Ditto for choosing Crest, because more dentists recommended it, and Keds for making us run faster, jump higher.

So why did Disney decide to offer a full refund to families who bought its Baby Einstein DVDs because they were supposed to make baby smarter? It’s because Baby Einstein DVDs and Disney were accused of making false claims in their marketing materials. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) faulted Baby Einstein for stating that the software would improve infants’ thinking skills, thus paving the way for future Einsteins. According to news reports, the feud between Baby Einstein and CCFC has gone on for years.

I’m no lover of false or overinflated product claims, especially when it comes to kids, but the question of infants and screen time has never been more important. In fact, we should be steeling ourselves for an explosion of apps made to engage infants and toddlers.

YouTube is filled with videos like this one showing a one-year-old competently touching his way through an iPod. Sweet little applications like Old McDonald from Duck Duck Moose and Giggle Computer Fun Time for Babies are being used and enjoyed by kids barely old enough to touch and point.

To date, the authority of screen time and kids has been the American Academy of Pediatrics. Its position is that kids younger than two-years-old should have NO screen time. But that rule was a world ago, before interactivity and the ability to explore virtual worlds was an everyday reality. The main argument against screen time was that it didn’t engage all of a child’s modalities. Now that the world of touch has been added, the game may change.

Personally, I’ve admired Baby Einstein’s founder, Julie Clark, as an early pioneer in the stay-at-home-mom-turns-entrepreneur movement. I never thought leaving a baby in a crib to stare at a screen for hours on end was a very good idea, but most parents I knew used Baby Einstein as a way to participate: singing, pointing, and sharing with their children. It’s all in how you use the tools.

Baby Einstein and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have both expressed their points of view. What’s yours?

Disclosure: My company, Living in Digital Times, is in talks with Baby Einstein about participation in an upcoming event.