Disney Admits that Baby Einstein Does Not Help Babies

Posted on October 26, 2009 at 8:00 am

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.

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Commentary Parenting Understanding Media and Pop Culture

11 Replies to “Disney Admits that Baby Einstein Does Not Help Babies”

  1. Nothing replaces a parent reading to their child, singing lullabies (especially old rock tunes), and simply cuddling on the couch. No TV show, DVD, or computer program accomplishes a small fraction of everything that is gained by being within an arm’s reach of a parent. Everything these DVD’s “taught” is learned better, faster, and more effectively when taught by a loving, caring person.
    So maybe The Mouse should market these to parents so they can then take the lessons to their children. Of course, they might have to lose the cheesy animation and silly style.

  2. I couldn’t agree more that “Baby Einstein” is a racket, Nell. As someone who grew up in the TV generation, I know how darned addictive it is, and have read the articles on how bad it is for children before the age of 2.
    I’m glad Disney has been forced to back down, and hope they don’t find some backhanded way to get around the consumers again.

  3. Nell, Thank you for discussing this. As a parent and children’s librarian, I cringe every time I hear parents ask for these DVDs and others for infants. Small children should not be watching TV; they should be experiencing life.

  4. Thanks for all these comments; beautifully said. Beth, your last sentence should be embroidered on a sampler and hung in every kitchen in the world.

  5. I agree, children should be interacting with other children instead of watching television. I have nine of these movies bought by me or given to my children. How do I return four of these movies.

  6. Hi, Amanda! Here’s the info:
    To participate, you must have purchased a Baby Einstein DVD between June 5, 2004 and September 4, 2009.
    If you are not satisfied with the Baby Einstein DVD you purchased during the period mentioned above, for a limited time beginning on September 4, 2009 and ending on March 4, 2010, you may exchange it for one of the following:
    * One (1) Baby Einstein Book of your choice
    * One (1) Baby Einstein music CD of your choice
    – Or –
    * One (1) coupon for 25% off the purchase of one Little Einsteins™ product. Redeemable with promotion code only at DisneyStore.com.
    or you may return it, and we will refund the current retail value of the DVD ($15.99).
    To request your DVD exchange or refund (limited to four (4) per household), you must follow the steps below for each DVD returned (note: you may return more than one DVD in the same mailing envelope, but you MUST include a completed mail-in certificate or completed 8½x11 sheet of paper for each DVD you are returning) :
    1. Package the DVD, in its original DVD case (if available), into a suitable mailing envelope or package.
    2. Include the completed (hand-printed) request form below or an 8½x11 sheet of paper with your signature, name, address, telephone number and email address.
    3. Indicate the DVD title you are returning and date of purchase.
    4. Check the appropriate box on the exchange/refund request form found below or write in on your sheet of paper your choice of :
    (a) An exchange for one (1) Baby Einstein Book OR one (1) Baby Einstein music CD. Please write in the product name or title in the appropriate space found on the refund request form below OR on your sheet of paper;
    (b) A coupon for 25% off one (1) Little Einsteins™ product purchased online at DisneyStore.com; or
    (c) A refund.
    5. Submissions must be postmarked by March 4, 2010.
    6. Mail to:
    The Baby Einstein DVD Guarantee/Upgrade Offer
    P.O. Box 3200
    Neenah, WI 54957-3200

  7. With the news that Disney is offering refunds for their Baby Einstein videos, parents may be more willing to keep their babies and toddlers away from the set. If they need more motivation, I suggest reading the book, The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid (Algonquin 2007) by Ellen Currey-Wilson. It’s inspiring and hilarious (better than your favorite sit-com), and sure to make any parent think twice about using the electronic baby sitter. The author also wrote a great piece about Baby Einstein videos a couple of years ago when the controversy was just beginning.
    You can contact Ellen Currey-Wilson at ecurreywilson@gmail.com or visit her website.
    Sandy Otto (a TV-free parent, or at least I was when my kids were little!)

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