Products Won't Create Baby Geniuses
> 4/16/2007 11:47:32 AM

Turns out that there are a lot companies getting rich off parental anxieties, all with little or no factual evidence to support their marketing claims. In fact, as Newsweek reports: "Companies with names like Baby Einstein, Brainy Baby, Baby Prodigy and Baby Genius became part of an industry that Thomas estimates now represents about $20 billion a year." Drawing from the new book by journalist Susan Gregory Thomas, Buy, Buy Baby and analysis from Education Sector, Newsweek breaks down how we've all been duped into thinking that the only way to have a successful, Ivy-league worthy child is to shower them with educational toys "designed" to make the most of your little one's play time.

In her book, Thomas has dubbed this wave of marketing-created angst the "toddler-industrial complex," and it's not hard to see how it could succeed without even the scantest proof. Parents will always want the best for their child, and that includes finding constructive ways to manage their free time. After neuro-biological data in 1994 showed the importance of the first 3 years in brain development, companies jumped on this opening, creating thousands of products targeted at that set even though no data ever proved that one type of toy or show was more effective than another. Former governor of Georgia Zell Miller felt so strongly about the importance of improving infant brain development that he made sure every child born in the state was sent home from the hospital with some Bach or Mozart, which some had speculated could positively effect young minds.

In her analysis of the current trends, Education Sector's Sara Mead lays it out:

There's a problem, however, with the new conventional wisdom about building brighter babies: It's based on misinterpretations and misapplications of brain research. While neural connections in babies' brains grow rapidly in the early years, adults can't make newborns smarter or more successful by having them listen to Beethoven or play with Einstein-inspired blocks. Nor is there any neuroscience evidence that suggests that the earliest years are a singular window for growth that slams shut once children turn three. To the contrary, the social programs with the strongest evidence of positive long-term impacts, including high-quality preschool programs, take place outside the zero-to-three window.

There is one thing that researchers do agree that young children need: more time with mom and dad. Interpersonal interaction and stimulation in the form of talking to or singing to newborns helps to develop the important communication skills that will help babies develop normally and be able to acquire higher learning skills as they age. The one thing that is clear, is that while these educational products might not be harmful, they are being marketed with completely faulty and unverifiable evidence about their benefits. And any time that kids spend watching movies or using these toys and games is time that they are not benefiting from interaction with parents and other adults.

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