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Parents make easy prey

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Scott Jagow: A new Baby Einstein DVD comes out later this month. You can pre-order it starting today. These learning DVDs aimed at infants and toddlers are now a multi-billion dollar business. But are they actually good for children? A new book says the answer is no. Susan Gregory Thomas is author of Buy, Buy Baby. That’s B-U-Y. She says parents are sitting ducks for marketers.

Susan Gregory: We’re so nervous, we’re so fearful that we’re not going to do the right thing and we’re also, our resistance is down because we’re tired, most of us are working. There are any number of stressors that make us incredibly vulnerable. So what marketers have learned to do is say, ‘These products embody your values. They are your surrogate, you don’t need to feel nervous about leaving you baby alone with us.’

Jagow: But aren’t the companies suggesting that these products actually make kids smarter and aren’t just a surrogate for the parents?

Gregory: Yes. Yes. Marketers understand that for Generation X these are all-important values. So the idea that not only can you feel comfortable with this as a surrogate but that it’s also going to provide some sort of special sauce that will make you child into a genius is pretty much the perfect storm.

Jagow: What are they basing that on?

Gregory: Nothing. There is very little research done on how infants and toddlers even process television, much less what they’re learning from it. An infant will see these images moving around on screen, startled, try to make sense of them and then it moves again and rthen it changes again with each cut. And what is hypothesized is that the infant gets caught up in an orienting reflex loop from which he or she can’t escape.

Jagow: Well, that doesn’t sound very good.

Gregory: It doesn’t sound very good. But we don’t’ really know about it and it certainly is the kind of phenomenon that begs for more research to be done.

Jagow: Well if you’re not recommending these new educational videos, what do you suggest parents do?

Gregory: One way in which marketers have been very successful is in overemphasizing cognitive development. Every moment has to be productive. But what I heard from all the early childhood experts that I spoke to is that young children just want to be able hang out. Because nothing really makes a difference except for you hanging out with your kids, even just being in the same room and they’re banging on the pots and the pans. That’s really it.

Jagow: All right Susan Gregory Thomas, author of Buy, Buy Baby, thanks for joining us.

Gregory: Thanks for having me.

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