Buying Learning for Babies is Consumerism Gone Wild, Not Good Parenting

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that: “Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” But just as cigarette manufacturers have discovered how to work around institutional health warnings and continue to sell their products to a gullible public, so have toy manufacturers. Despite the failure of Baby Einstein (studies showed using Baby Einstein had no educational benefits and refunds were issued) parents still think they must buy their babies special products to help them learn, such as these “Laugh & Learn” apps from Fisher-Price that have been downloaded 2.8 million times, as the New York Times reports.

According to the complaints, the companies say in marketing material that their apps teach infants spatial skills, numbers, language or motor skills. But, the complaints claim, there is no rigorous scientific evidence to prove that these kinds of products provide those benefits.

“The baby genius industry is notorious for marketing products as educational, when in fact there is no evidence that they are,” said Susan Linn, the director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which is based in Boston. “Parents deserve honest information about the educational value of the activities they choose for their children and they are not getting it from these companies.”

The unspoken assumption behind these products is that children will soon use them on their own, but studies consistently show no genuine educational gains with these products unless parents are using it with the child. The article quotes “Stefan Babinec, an executive at Open Solutions . . . His company agrees that digital screens are not a replacement for live interactions with humans, he added, and assumes that children use its apps together with a parent, sibling or baby sitter.”

The modern idea that children need special products and special environments in order to learn is a merging of corporate and educational interests that turn children’s individual learning into a commodity. The baby genius industry seeks to supplant an almost invisible, natural process—learning to walk, talk, recognize shapes, colors, and sounds—that humans have successfully done even in the most extreme environments (being born in the Himalayas or the Australian Outback) and turn it into animated lessons that only work (if merely identifying sights, shapes, and sounds out of context on a machine means it is working) if we sit next to our child with an electronic device and use it with them. I urge you not to do that. Instead of buying your baby apps and DVDs, keep them in your arms or nearby, coo and tickle them, talk and sing to them, and keep them secure and healthy. That’s the time-tested learning environment and method!