Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Buy, Buy, Baby

I have just finished reading Buy, Buy Babyby Susan Gregory Thomas. What an eye opener! I know, of course, that the AAP recommends that children under two not watch TV, and I know that companies target young children for marketing, but I didn't realize how little I know.

The most shocking, and horrifying, bit of information, is that companies are teaming up with marketers to provide "educational" materials to preschools and daycares. They want to get into the new market segment (the under-three crowd), but first they have to get past the Generation-X mom. And studies have shown that the GenX mom is, as the book says, a formidable gatekeeper. She wants to know that her child is learning, is being prepared for school, is having the best experience possible. So Disney and PBS and Barbie are hiring marketers to come up with ways to spin their products as more “educational.” Mostly, this consists of labeling the actual box with words like "learning" and "educational."

Preschools and daycare are often strapped for cash, and as parents want a more academic curriculum in place, the centers are finding it very easy to accept free materials from Scholastic promoting Clifford's Big Ideas (one of the "big ideas": believe in yourself...not exactly educational). In return for this free material (including big posters of Clifford to place around the room), the centers provide Scholastic with demographic data on the attendees, most of the time, without informing the parents.

What's wrong with Clifford, you ask? Well, what's right with him? How is "believing in yourself" preparing your child for elementary school? Even if you allow that the supposed academic/educational benefit is wildly exaggerated, there's still harm. You are allowing Clifford to be marketed to your children--they are going to want Clifford lunch boxes and Clifford toys, and Clifford books, to the exclusion of others. That's a very imbalanced childhood.

More importantly, Clifford and Playhouse Disney, and all of the other product lines marketed as "educational" are giving parents a false sense of security in "knowing that their child is learning, when in fact, it may actually be leading to developmental delays! Infants and toddlers who watch television have a higher risk of developing ADHD by age 7. Researchers have shown that TV-watching actually "re-wires" the infant's brain and interferes with normal neurological development.

If you want to teach a child a simple task, he will have to watch the video or TV show 20 times in order to learn how to do it. But if you, the parent, work directly with him, in person, he will learn it in four or five demonstrations.

So the next time you think about popping in a Baby Einstein video, ask yourself why you’re doing it. If you want to give your child the best educational advantage, it’s better to get down on the floor with him and stack those blocks. If you need him entertained while you take a shower, it’s better to stick him in the pack-n-play with those blocks.

Finally, just a note: as a mother, I am incredulous that people willingly believe whatever they’re told by other mothers or marketers without doing the tiniest bit of research to check the facts. How hard is it to ask your pediatrician what the AAP recommends regarding TV-watching? Most likely, you won’t even have to ask—he’ll make it a point to tell you during a checkup. Just because all the other mothers are popping in those Baby Einstein videos doesn’t mean it’s right or good.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Children to get to much tv and over advertised too. My oldest is hoked on spiderman. And what an ugly guy for a little kid to absolutly love.
I will look foward to reading your reviews