Disney, which had to drop the word “educational” from its marketing of Baby Einstein DVDs following complaints from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), has now had to back down further and offer a refund.
The New York Times reports that the $200 million a year business, which is predicated on the idea that DVD-watching is beneficial to infants even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time of any kind, television, DVDs, or computers, before age 2, is so pervasive that as many as a third of all American babies have seen at least one of these DVDs. In what the company is calling an “enhanced consumer satisfaction guarantee” and the CCFC is characterizing as capitulation, the company will refund $15.99 for up to four “Baby Einstein” DVDs per household, bought between June 5, 2004, and Sept. 5, 2009, and returned to the company.
I have been a furious opponent of Baby Einstein and the other DVDs for infants since I published the one of the first exposes of them as a racket in the mainstream media, a 2005 article in the Chicago Tribune. When I was working on the article, a company representative’s absurd response to my question about academic studies showing no benefits in learning from their products that their DVDs were “not research-based.” The New York Times story reports that even though they had to remove the word “educational” from their literature following CCFC complaints and a Federal Trade Commission investigation, the website still promises “number recognition” and introduction of shapes. And, of course, the name itself implies that the products increase knowledge or intellectual capacity.
The academic studies show that what infants learn from watching a family member once takes them four times as long to absorb in a DVD. And the very act of watching a DVD with the pulsing refresh rate of the screen can be at the same time soporific and stimulating, making it more difficult for them to get restful sleep. The only thing they learn from these DVDs is how to watch television. Susan Linn of the CCFC was a terrific resource for me in my work on this issue and I am delighted to see her success in bringing to parents’ attention how useless these DVDs are.