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Turning Baby Into Baby Einstein

Do educational products for babies really give babies an advantage?

Report Card on Smart Baby Goods continued...

Educational toys and other media should be used to enhance these core experiences, says Greenspan. Structured games, information-oriented materials, and other "educational" products are OK to use as springboards for interaction, but relying solely on them could hamper broad development.

"The games and toys are advertised as building intelligence, but, in fact, most of them just build narrow types of skills, such as memory -- like memorizing letters or sounds -- or some very narrow types of problem solving -- something mechanical and not the type of broad problem-solving these six experiences [mentioned above] promote," says Greenspan.

The Baby Einstein web site says their products "expose your little ones to the world around them through the use of real world objects, music, art, language, science, poetry and nature. ... Our products provide fun and stimulating ways for parents and caregivers to interact and enrich their children's lives."

Marketing to Parents and Babies

Lois Liebowitz received the Baby Einstein videotapes as gifts for her daughter, Melissa. Although the 2-year-old appears to enjoy the shows, Liebowitz is unsure of their impact on her toddler.

Given her doubts about the value of such educational media, Liebowitz ponders whether or not she would have bought the tapes on her own. "I probably would've been guilt-tripped into it," confesses the Manhattan, N.Y., resident. "There's this thing about wanting to give your kid every advantage, and since you're not sure if this really makes a difference, then you better do it in case it really does make a difference."

The 45-year-old marketing executive says her fears about being a good first-time mother have especially made her more vulnerable. "From an advertising perspective, you're almost like a sitting duck," she says.

Liebowitz is far from being the only parent to feel this way. The sentiment is so common that in a review of the Kaiser survey, an advocacy group called Stop the Commercial Exploitation of Children (SCEC), calls for helping "parents understand the harms associated with marketing to children and themselves."

The editorial explains that babies who watch TV -- even PBS shows -- are exposed to thousands of marketing and commercial messages for things that aren't good for them, such as junk food, toys, and other products.

To Liebowitz's credit, she limits Melissa's TV- and video-watching time to a maximum of 90 minutes per day and makes sure the 2-year-old gets lots of reading time, free play, and trips to places such as the zoo and museum.

Smart Parenting

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time for children who are older than 2 years old and no screen time at all for younger kids.

The no-screen-time-rule may be tough for some parents to follow, given they may find time to do things such as prepare dinner or make phone calls while babies are engaged in educational toys or shows.

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