Tag Archives: family entertainment

Baby Einstein’s questionable value

Baby Einstein

In a recent State of the Union address, US President George Bush heaped praise on Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of Baby Einstein saying that she is a “generous social entrepreneur” and “represents the great enterprising spirit of America.”

What an endorsement. And from an authority no higher than President of the United States of America. I can only imagine that sales of Baby Einstein products are increasing as we speak.

I’m in complete agreement with the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood when they say that:

The President claimed that Ms. Aigner-Clark “represents the great enterprising spirit of America.” We respectfully disagree. We don’t believe that preying on parents’ concerns about their children’s well-being; deceiving customers about a product’s benefits; or exploiting our youngest and most vulnerable children should have any role in the American marketplace.

As parents, we are kept in a constant state of fear about how we raise our kids. Advertising and marketing do a phenomenal job at making us feel that, if we don’t use (insert a product here), our children may somehow be in danger, miss out or be left behind.

Well, today there is some new research that may have the U.S. President rethinking the praise he heaped on Aigner-Clark. Okay, okay…I doubt this President rethinks anything he says, but I digress. Apparently “Baby Einstein” is doing more harm than good and can actually delay language development in toddlers.

Time magazine recently published a story about the findings of research conducted by Frederick Zimmerman and Dr. Dimitri Christakis at the University of Washington.

…the research team found that with every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos. These products had the strongest detrimental effect on babies 8 to 16 months old, the age at which language skills are starting to form. “The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew,” says Christakis. “These babies scored about 10% lower on language skills than infants who had not watched these videos.”

So, how can you actually increase your child’s vocabulary and language skills when they are infants? The authors of the study suggest reading to them as children who are read to daily show a slight increase in language skills.

Cultivating a sense of humor in your kids

BabyCentre has just posted a great article called How to raise a fun and funny child. One of the points of the article that struck me harkens back to that very basic nature/nurture theory. Can humor be taught, or is it inherited? According to the article, it can be taught.

Can humor be taught, or is it an inherited trait like left-handedness and green eyes? While some children seem to be born with a bubbly, good-natured disposition, developmental psychologists say humor can be taught. Think of it as a muscle (one no doubt near the funny bone) that needs to be strengthened and worked regularly.

The article has something for parents whose kids are at any stage of development, and ends with a list of 7 things to do with your kids to crack ’em up. Most of them are pretty self evident (watch funny movies, or read funny books). But the first one is a cracker of a suggestion: Celebrate silly holidays. I’m already preparing for “National Tell a Joke Day” on August 16th, followed by “Talk Like a Pirate Day” on September 19th.

Does media grow healthy kids?

The first annual Kids and Media conference Beyond Primetime kicks off today in New York. Sponsored by the excellent web resource CommonSenseMedia.org, I hope to see a lot of discussion floating around the media and the blogsphere about kids and the media as a result of this conference.

Unlike other events of this type, this one seems a tad different in that the discussion of kids and media use is framed by the context of media use being a public health issue, rather than a social or moral issue. That’s not to say that health is not a social or moral issue, but it’s refreshing to see the context of healthy kids being used to frame the issue of media consumption by kids.

It’s not hard to see the correlation between increased media consumption and health problems in kids. In Canada, rates of childhood obesity have almost tripled over the past 20 years.

The correlation goes beyond speculation that there might be links between media consumption and health. There are direct links. Children who watch more than five hours of TV per day are four-and-a-half times more likely to become overweight than those who watch two hours or less, and kids who watch more than two hours of television a day are more likely to smoke and have high cholesterol.

Which is why conferences like this one are important.

The speaker list is an impressive who’s who list of academics, CEO’s and NGO’s covering all aspects of the media landscape. If you happen to live in New York, you might be interested in checking this conference out.

I Thought I Was A Dedicated Dad…

I thought I was a pretty dedicated Dad – that is, until I watched March of the Penguins (Widescreen Edition) last night. Emperor Penguin Dad’s are the true definition of dedication, delicately balancing their precious eggs on their feet to keep them off the ice covered ground (a penguin egg will freeze in seconds if it touches the ground) while covering them to protect them from the cold. They endure temperatures approaching -62 °C (-80 °F), and their only source of water is snow that falls around them. By the time the females return from feeding, male penguins have lost half their weight and have not eaten for four months. Man, I go 4 hours without eating and I’m a wreck.

This is the first full length feature we have watched with The Girl (now 2 1/2) and I was surprised how well it held her interest, considering it is not animated and it is quite slow (yet beautifully filmed). She didn’t make it through the whole film – her attention waning after 45 minutes or so – but it was still nice to see that something like a nature film can capture her attention.

The only thing that marred the viewing was the previews on the DVD, which (thank goodness) we were able to fast forward through relatively quickly. I mean, I know studios need to promote their upcoming movies, but the decision to include previews for Nouvelle-France that consisted of numerous battle & suggestive sex scenes, and some movie about capital punishment that consisted of a man being forcibly strapped to a table in preparation for lethal injection seems like a bad idea. Certainly the studio must realize that this is a film that families will be watching – it’s too bad the previews didn’t reflect this.

The Zoo and My Flexible Morals

Last weekend my wife and I set aside moral objections to keeping animals in cages and took our daughter to the zoo.

I was surprised how easy it was to make the decision. Perhaps because my wife and daughter had already visited the Vancouver Aquarium a few months ago, and, after doing a bit of research on that facility, I decided that the work they do is actually a bit more important and significant than just providing amusement for people. Besides, my daughter has this thing for Beluga whales and, barring an unexpected trip to Nunavut, probably won’t be able to see any in the wild for quite some time, long after she has outgrown her Beluga whale phase. So, when I planned the trip to the Vancouver Zoo last weekend, I naively envisioned an organization run with the same type of environmental integrity as the aquarium.

The visit was okay – there was only one animal that I thought might be a bit uncomfortable. A brown bear that seemed to me to be in a fairly small area, but the sign on the pen said it was a temporary facility and a new one was to be completed very soon.

All in all, though, I felt good about the trip and the zoo. The Girl had a good time and can’t stop talking about the nursing baby Wallaby she saw.

Which is why I feel doubly sick after reading in the paper this morning that the Vancouver Zoo – the zoo I so happily gave my money to 4 days ago – has become the first zoo in Canada to be charged with cruelty to animals.

Yep – not feeling so good about our family trip now.