My Baby’s No Einstein (Or, why I won’t be asking the Baby Einstein Co. for my money back)

So a totally hilarious thing came out recently in the news. Turns out that parents who bought the Baby Einstein videos (originally conceived by chic blonde Colorado mom and entrepreneur Julie Aigner Clark, who was Einstein-smart enough herself to sell out to Disney) can now ask for their money back. Because, you know, turns out the videos and DVDs and music CDs (wait for it…) don’t actually make your kids smarter.

Oh, dear God.

Read this piece, by Washington Times writer Marybeth Hicks. Hicks describes how the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) has pushed and pressed for several years now for Disney and Baby Einstein to just up and admit that the videos are pure entertainment, not the first stop on the road to Harvard. (Even better, Hicks quotes one of my favorite writers and bloggers, Jen Singer, owner of Mommasaid.net and author of the new Stop Second Guessing Yourself series of books, who is the go-to gal if you need a reality check on parenting).

So yeah, big surprise.

I first heard about this on the radio yesterday, in a brief segment on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show. He took a couple calls, and seemed surprised that parents aren’t beating Disney’s doors down asking for their cash back. Again, no surprise here.

Because, uh, did anyone buy this stuff, seriously, in hopes that plopping your 6-month old in front of them would boost his IQ? I imagine some did, but not seriously. Just sort of in that, “well, this could give him a teeny edge, and couldn’t hurt, right?” kind of way.

Baby Einstein, and our old friend Julie Clark (who always included an annoying promo for herself and her products on the tapes, which my husband and I parody to this day… hi, I’m Julie Clark, founder of the Baby Einstein company, and I’m getting fabulously rich on the backs of your parental insecurities and competitive natures! Isn’t that great?!), dovetailed nicely with a general climate, in the parenting world, of edge-getting. Anything we could possibly do — or anything someone like Julie Clark soothingly coerced us into thinking we could do — we simply had to do.

It all seems so benign. And the videos themselves are, for sure. But the impulse behind them is anything but.

Listen, we had the whole collection of BI videos. Some bought, some gifts. The big boy loved it when we first showed him Baby Beethoven at about 8 months (that is, aside from a brief scene when  a lion puppet plays a saxophone. He’d cry hysterically if we didn’t grab the remote and fast-forward. No idea why). But before long, those videos became a routine part of many days. First, all of the videos are about 30 minutes long. That’s a shower, with extra time to moisturize, deodorize, and get dressed in peace. Second, my son was mesmerized by most of them, and soon they became a clear signal that it was calming-down time. Video, then nap. Easy-peasy.

But I never expected him to hum Beethoven, then toddle to his play piano and start composing his own music. And while we both loved Baby Van Gogh, I don’t expect him to wander into a museum when he’s older and feel a pull toward the artist’s work thanks to his early exposure. They were just nice. Mild. Not jarring. No purple dinosaurs, no commercials.

I don’t want my money back, thanks.

But I am getting a good laugh, and that’s priceless.

11 responses to “My Baby’s No Einstein (Or, why I won’t be asking the Baby Einstein Co. for my money back)”

  1. Louise Sloan

    I’m totally with you. Though personally, I didn’t even like them. I thought they were lame and weird. Mostly they gathered dust. But the idea of returning it for my money back because my 3-year-old son’s not ready for college? Come on.

  2. Chris Le Beau

    We never had them (yes, I’m one of those moms who wouldn’t let my daughter watch TV until she was almost 3), but my sister did, and she *swore* they were educational. We actually had some heated arguments about this before she admitted they were nothing but an electronic babysitter. So while I had the same “duh” reaction as you when I heard this news, I think there may actually be people out there who feel duped.

  3. Jen Singer

    I think there are many parents who felt less guilty plopping their kids in front of Baby Einstein videos so they could go cook dinner, figuring that the Super Moms of the world would cut them slack. They were supposed to be educational videos, right?

    And thanks for saying such nice things about me. I came to read your blog, and was nicely surprised by the plug.

    As for me, I’m going as Super Mom for Halloween. Even got the Wonder Woman boots. Maybe I should carry around one of your Baby Einstein videos.

  4. Christina Baglivi Tinglof

    Got ours as a baby gift. My boys loved them and I used them every day, too. TV has always been my friend. No guilt here!

  5. Alida

    I bought them. I would buckle the boy into his swing and rush into the shower. I was done before you could say Baby Einstein. I did this because we had a t.v. but no cable, so it was only dvd’s for us. If I had cable it would’ve been the Teleltubbies.

    I had to laugh, my husband would parody her too. (Only he was much meaner.)
    “Hi, I’m Julie Aigner Clark, founder of the Baby Einstein Company and not only are your babies getting smarter, but now I can afford a chic haircut and botox.”

  6. Amy @ Frugal Mama

    I find this whole debacle fascinating too, as I used the videos with my young daughters — to take showers & sanity naps — but I often wondered about the content and production quality. I mean, why is it so good for kids to look at pictures of toys? I would have preferred videos about nature, animals, or real kids doing real things (like the skits that the Teletubbies would show in their bellies — the best part of that show, by the way).

  7. Emily Rogan

    Never owned Baby Einstein. Kids never watched’em, ever. Were they after my kids were little? We were Sesame Street fans…and then Noggin. No fantasies of any of that stuff making my kids smarter. And I also don’t believe kids who read before kindergarten are any smarter than the kids who don’t. But, alas, that’s another post.

  8. Laurie Puhn

    Great post. I have a BI video for my son, but I have a much higher tolerance for Sesame Street (sometimes I even like SS!), so that’s what we watch. My 1.5 year old has actually learned some letters from SS. But even with that educational accomplishment, I think TV is simply entertaining. It’s a diversion (away from needing me to carry or play with him for 20 minutes) and it’s a life saver. Though, I try to avoid TV during meal times because apparently that creates bad eating habits… I wrote about TV for kids on my blog here “Why I Hired the Television Babysitter” http://www.expectingwords.com/why-i-hired-the-television-babysitter
    And I don’t think you are a mean mommy :)

  9. Confessions of a Mean Mommy » Blog Archive » Mean Mom’s Question Time: How Much TV Do Your Kids Watch?

    […] that bubble got a pin in it last year when the big mama of this multi-gazillion-dollar business, Baby Einstein, agreed to pay back parents who felt their babies didn’t get smarter after […]

  10. Michael

    Almost everyone I know was thankful for 30 minutes of peace.

    Stop trying to make your babies smarter (YOUR BABY CAN READ)! Love them, and do what you know is right. Maybe it’s not universal, but instincts are there for a reason.