It has come to my attention that there has been much recent criticism of Baby Einstein. For those not in the know, Baby Einstein is a little off-shoot of Disney that sells a number of products including half hour DVDs for babies. These feature lots of beautiful images of water/animals/planets (depending on the theme) and star a few squeaky-clean animal puppets and a few squeaky-clean multi-racial children all going about their business to gloriously tinny classical music. There is also a language option which means that babies can watch the DVD in numerous languages. This means our household now knows that Molen is the Dutch word for windmill.
Last week my sister, (whose children are not television-watchers), forwarded an email by some group called Campaign For a Commercial Free Childhood Reclaiming Childhood from Corporate Marketers. Now there's a snappy title. Anyway, in a coup for CFCFCRCCM (which actually calls itself CCFC), the Walt Disney Company will offer a full refund to anyone who purchased a Baby Einstein DVD in the last five years.
Our 2006 Federal Trade Commission complaint forced Disney to stop claiming that Baby Einstein videos were educational for infants, but the company made no move to compensate parents who purchased them.
We thought parents deserved better. So, with help from CCFC members like you, we kept the pressure on until Disney agreed to reimburse Baby Einstein customers.
The refund offer is a wonderful victory for families and anyone who cares about children. Recent research shows that screen time is not educational for babies. Now parents who purchased Baby Einstein DVDs, mistakenly believing the videos would make their babies smarter, can recoup their money.
My sister asked me whether I was going to claim the refund. CLAIM THE REFUND? Is she kidding? Let it be stated that not only am I NOT going to claim the refund, I've budgeted for a Christmas bonus for the makers of Baby Einstein. I have even considered going one step further and changing Edgar's name to Edgar-Baby and George's to George-Einstein as a token of my on-going commitment to Baby Einstein and their products.
Do I think Baby Einstein is educational? Well it can't not be educational. It's certainly exposing my children to things they haven't seen before (like Dutch windmills) and, given that we never leave the suburb and are unlikely to do so for some time, this has to be advantageous. The fact that they have this exposure in numerous languages is super (although they could do with a few Asian languages as well).
More important than education, however (yes, gasp, you did read that correctly), Baby Einstein has made our evening times workable solo. I can sit my boys in front of the telly for 30 mins -- sometimes longer if I'm desperate -- while I sweep around the house getting their bottles, dummies and sleeping bags ready. I can soothe one child in the cot without having the other wail hysterically in the other room -- setting off his brother -- which used to happen in the deep dark pre-Baby Einstein times.
We use Baby Einstein for relaxation and it's a wonderful indicator that it's actually bed time. As a children's writer, I would probably prefer to read to them. As a mother of twin boys who are everywhere and into everything, I find this nigh impossible. There is substantial time in my children's lives for books (they're at 'library time' as I type) but this does not preclude a nightly DVD.
Have I tried something less "commercial" like Playschool? (I'm sure the Board of the ABC would be thrilled to read that). Yes I have, but Baby Einstein, with its steady flow of images set to muzak captures the attention of my babies for longer. Playschool is wonderful for slightly older children and would probably be fine for mine when their attention is not flagging at the end of the day, but when they're tired, Baby Einstein is just the succour they need.
So, to the makers of Baby Einstein, thank you. Please know that for every critic, there is at least one avid fan.
To the members of CCFC? Thank you, too. Keep up your battle to get Pooh Bear off my nappies and Thomas and Dora off every article of clothing available in Target. I don't want to be paying to advertise those brands. And they're hideous. But please leave Baby Einstein in peace -- if only for the immeasurable peace it's brought this twin mum.