Bill has had a fussy week. Restless sleeping, kvetchy and needy when awake, and diminished appetite. (Teething, it turns out.) The Cap’n was working yesterday afternoon, so after taking a short nap with the baby, I gave him a snack (which he threw on the floor after one or two bites) and then (remembering last resorts of years past) brought him to the computer and put on Baby Mozart.
A graduate school friend gave us our first Baby Einstein video after Beans was born, the original with toys, nursery rhymes, and foreign languages. Over the course of a few years, we acquired most of them, including the post-Disney-sellout ones. The music, mechanical toys (which we never bought for the kids), and puppetry were acceptable viewing for our kids, though they never watched more than a couple per week.
Then in October, a friend emailed me with a link to a New York Times article detailing how Disney is recalling the Baby Einstein videos. It seems many parents who bought them were actually hoodwinked into thinking the videos would make their children smarter and were disappointed and angry when their children’s IQs didn’t actually go up as a result of watching them. Poor things.
We on the other hand, were under no such illusions. We bought them strictly for sedation purposes, to shove into the DVD player when the kids were cranky, fighting, or driving us insane. A nurse I met when Beans was new called Baby Mozart “the shower video,” since it would keep a newborn amused and quiet for about 20 minutes, the length of time a frazzled parent would need to take in the bathroom in order to emerge clean and sane (for at least another few hours).
The whole industry of “make your baby smarter” is a snake oil industry. Nothing a kid can watch on the idiot box is going to make him or her smarter. Young kids get smarter by doing things with their hands, exploring the world, touching, tasting, and making a mess. They can’t do any of those things when they’re watching someone else do it on TV. Just as research showed that kids’ aim (in throwing? shooting AK-47s? Couldn’t find a link—sorry) wasn’t found to be any better after playing video games, no kid is going to become smarter by watching other people play with toys. (Perhaps the Baby Einstein people got smarter making the videos; they certainly got richer.)
My mother-in-law gave me a book last year edited by Harold Bloom entitled Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages. At the time, I asked her if it was because she thought the kids needed it, or because she thought the kids were already smart and this book was up to their standards. (With such a title, one cannot be sure.) She assured me that it was very much the latter, though the title still bothers me. It suggests that the stories and poems within, which are part and parcel of Western culture, are meant only for children who are extremely bright, as though children who are of average or below-average intelligence cannot benefit from them—or worse, that only through hearing these stories can children become extremely intelligent. Neither possibility fails to insult me. (I studied with a protégée of Harold Bloom’s in graduate school, and respect them both. I certainly hope he had nothing to do with choosing such a pretentious title for the book.)
I may not have purchased our family’s copies of the Baby Einstein DVDs in the time frame specified to receive a full refund, but I’m not worried. About halfway through the video, Bill squirmed until I put him down, then crawled off to play. I guess he’s smart enough not to need them after all.