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Baby Einstein Products and the Infant Brain.

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Baby Einstein Products and the Infant Brain

Elizabeth Bergeron

March 22, 2019

Introduction

Daily, parents are presented with options for products and programs to enhance the lives of their children. From diets to educational tools, many companies promise exceptional results. Many parents, looking for any way to enhance the lives, intelligence, and physicality of their children, will turn to these products and claims looking for the answer to improve their child's life. One such product was the Baby Einstein product line. Parents flocked to these products to help improve their infants IQ and language ability. However, as time progressed, it was found that what so many parents thought was the answer, was just another vial of snake oil and a drain on their wallet.

Baby Einstein is Born

In 1996, Julie Aigner, a former teacher and recent stay at home mom, was unhappy with the selection of educational material available. With the help of her husband, they began developing videos that were then sold. Julie wanted to create educational programming and her success attracted the attention of the Walt Disney Corporation who saw the potential for her product. In November 2001, Julie sold her Baby Einstein line to Disney. From November 2001 until they sold the Baby Einstein line to Kid II Inc in September 2013, the Walt Disney Corporation introduced Baby Einstein to the world claiming that the material was educational and told parents that it would make their babies smarter and increase the vocabulary skills and intelligence of their own baby Einsteins.

The Baby Einstein product line was a multi million dollar success story as parents flocked to the stores to obtain the products they were sure would create a world of little geniuses, never once giving mind to the old adage “if something sounds to good to be true, it probably is”. Not once did parents think that they should question the claim that simply by popping in a tape and popping your infant in front of the television set, geniuses would be made. Instead, millions of parents did just that. Then reality began to emerge.

Baby Einstein Comes Under Attack

During the 2000s, numerous products emerged targeting infants and small children, claiming to increase the intelligence of children. The television show Teletubbies emerged on PBS and was targets to one year olds, “Your Baby Can Read”, a program that cost $200.00 and promised children as young as 9 months could learn to read, and the Baby Genius line also emerged promising a flock of baby geniuses, along with numerous other such products and programs flooded the market. Numerous products promising the world to parents who would just buy them for their babies. It appeared that this market saturation started to bring parents to a place where claims were starting to be questioned and parents were expecting to see results, of which it seemed were lacking. Parents started to look to Baby Einstein for results and then to them for answers. Parents wanted to know when their babies would become Einsteins and what the experts had to say.

The Reality of Baby Einstein

        On January 22, 2010, a Federal Trade Commission complaint was filed in Orange County, California claiming that the Baby Einstein videos were falsely marketed as educational and that these videos would make babies smarter. While the FTC did not choose to take enforceable action, the Walt Disney Company did decide to change their advertising approach, redesign their website, and quit using educational claims in relation to the Baby Einstein products (Underhill, 2010). This was simply the beginning of the downfall of Baby Einstein as parents began looking to the company for answers. In 2010, The Walt Disney Company issued refunds of $16.00 per DVD bought (maximum of 4 DVDs) which resulted in a one hundred million dollar loss to the company. The Walt Disney Company then decided to see the Baby Einstein line for a substantial loss to Kids II Inc, which has continued the Baby Einstein line, only now in analog forms. The current state of the Baby Einstein line is a far different state than what was once planned. The Baby Einstein line went from having the adoration of parents, creating spin off Disney Channel shows, such as Little Einsteins, to being kept in an analog form. What was once a star player is now a background character on store shelves.

The Reality of What Was Being Claimed

The reality of what Baby Einstein could and could not do along with the emerging studies was what Baby Einstein could not contend with. The studies were there and were emerging that became the David to the Walt Disney Corporation Goliath. The  2001 study done by the American Academy of Pediatric Community on Public Education showed that any screen time for children younger than the age of two was not recommended. This was instead the target audience of Baby Einstein.

Another study was done in 2010, that examined the effect of the Baby Einstein videos on vocabulary showed that a child who viewed these videos regularly for one month with or without parental involvement, “showed no greater understanding of words from the program, than kids who never saw it” (Bower, 2010). Additional studies starting coming out summarizing that Baby Einstein videos showed no applicable benefit and piggybacking off the American Academy of Pediatric suggestion of screen time for children under two doing more harm than good. Further studies showed that for every 1 hour a day spent watching Baby Einstein, the infant knew six to eight fewer words and there was no improvement in one and 2 year old's language. In fact, the younger the viewer, the decrease in vocabulary (Szalavitz, 2010). Baby Einstein was doing the opposite of what they promised. Instead of Baby Einsteins, there were just babies.

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