In a day and age when parents are vying for spots in the top preschools before their children have barely taken their first steps, it's no wonder consumers are looking to jumpstart children's education. Turning to toys and products that fuel the learning process seems to be a natural step in that direction.
Dr. Helen Boehm, a child development specialist and the author of The Official Guide to the Right Toys, said, "In an environment where parents are spending more money on fewer children ... there is a continuing interest in 'building the better baby.'"
According to Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician based in Austin, Texas, and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, this perception has become a reality. "Parents today feel the pressure to compete, to have their child succeed in a challenging world. They perceive that DVDs that teach Swahili for toddlers will ... prepare them for this world."
Walter Gilliam of Yale University also recognizes consumers' interest in media that tout educational benefits. "The name 'Baby Einstein' alone implies being intellectual," he said. "All parents would like to help their children have the very best chances for success in education and life. The idea of an easy-to-load video or DVD that would help their children grow into smart, young students can be very enticing."
Besides the idea of helping get their child off on the right foot, educationally speaking, experts note that allowing their children to watch these videos gives parents a short reprieve -- whether that means getting dinner started or throwing in a load of laundry.
Vicky Rideout, vice president and director of The Kaiser Foundation's program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health, has conducted a number of focus groups with parents of young children who watch these videos. Of her findings, she said, "Many of them believe these videos are not only convenient, but they are good for their babies. The main thing seems to be that parents feel they need something to help keep their child safely occupied and they see baby videos as a positive way to do that."
Claire Lerner, director of parenting resources for Zero to Three in Washington, D.C., affirms this notion. "Parents buy them because they need a break. These videos provide the idea that they don't need to feel badly that their child is sitting down and watching these in a secure spot." Enticing packaging that promises to help make your baby smarter is a definite allure as well, she added.
Dr. Brown recognizes the impact of the modern family nucleus on video viewing. With so many households in which both parents work, videos can become what she calls "an electronic babysitter." Even stay-at-home parents are not immune to this trend, she adds, noting their employment of videos as a form of downtime and, in some cases, a peacemaker. "Parents rationalize this time ... as a positive when the programming is 'educational,'" she said.
Considering the tremendous consumer demand for "Baby Einstein" videos/DVDs, the most obvious question is: Do these interactive videos actually help the learning process, or are they purely a form of entertainment? In the next section, experts will weigh in on the role of developmental videos in the learning process.