In defense of Baby Einstein
Tropical fish, they say, can have a soothing effect on the human psyche, lowering blood pressure and contributing to an overall sense of calm in adults.If you don’t have a tank of fish, though, pop in one of the “Baby Einstein” videos. These brazenly plot-less bits of entertainment for little ones feature such rip-roaring scenes as a toy train circling around a track; a lava lamp just, well, sitting there being a lava lamp; and babies languidly playing with colorful balls. It’s all set to a soundtrack of classical music’s greatest hits.Lately, Baby Einstein is under fire because someone came out with a study suggesting the videos are somehow bad for little kids. I don’t know about that, not being a scientist or expert in developmental psychology, but I would say without hesitation that they’re great for adults. The most stressful, anxiety-ridden day at work would melt away instantly when I snuggled up with Andy and watched Baby Einstein. Part of me wanted to inhabit that world, where only calming music and simple moving shapes existed, and the most complex thing one could contemplate was wheeled penguins rolling down a little plastic slide. Set to some Brahms or Chopin, it went right to the cerebral cortex, replacing grown-up concerns with a delightful blankness and the primitive desire to fill one’s diaper.Ahhhhh.Our youngest just turned 6, so we’re a few years past the Baby Einstein stage. Still, I remember them well since, for a few years, they served as a sort of backdrop to our busy household. Even the older kids would sit and watch with Andy as wind-up toys marched hypnotically across the floor, followed by a metronome set to “lento” and then, in grand finale, a tiny fountain tinkling water over baby seals while a lamb mobile whirled overhead. Or something like that.We had another video, not of the Baby Einstein series, that consisted solely of a beach ball bouncing and rolling to different places. It was brilliant, sort of the diametric opposite to a grown-up film like “Memento,” where you have to bend your brain to figure a bunch of stuff out. It was just the ball: the ball at the beach, the ball going down the stairs, the ball floating down a river.Ahhhh.And what’s so wrong with that, I wonder? How could watching such things have any negative effect on a little kid unless, of course, that’s all they ever did. Most parents use these videos around nap- or bedtime, and I don’t recall seeing instructions on the box saying: “This video is meant to replace all human interaction with your growing child.”Like most things in life, Baby Einstein and similar videos are meant to be used in moderation. Some parents believe no amount of television is good for children under a certain age, but most parents accept it as an integral part of modern life. Kids have been and still are exposed to much worse – cockfighting, war and famine come to mind – so it hardly seems possible that “experts” are spending time fretting over these innocuous videos.But there are a great many people spending a lot of money to unravel the mysteries of early childhood, and they will uncover just about daily some new thing over which to be freshly concerned. As parents, we employ many grains of salt, navigating the shoals of the study, creating hand-wringers by simply doing what we believe is best for our children. Some parents may well find that their tots get agitated or glazed-over if they take in too much TV. Others know it helps settle them down before bed.It’s our call.Alex Miller can be reached at email@example.com.