Skip to main content

Please, No More Genius Babies

Apparently Baby Einstein videos, according to University of Washington research, don’t actually work—you can’t turn your baby into a genius by making him or her watch TV.

Recently Time Magazine (along with a long list of other newspapers and magazines) published the findings of a new report that Baby Einstein videos, according to University of Washington research, don’t actually work. Apparently you can’t turn your baby into a genius by making him or her watch TV. In fact, according to this latest study evaluating the claims of these and other smart-baby videos, they actually delay development and “may be doing more harm than good.”

This must be disappointing news for the millions of American households with kids that have purchased the videos, but for me it’s good news because I thought they were a questionable enterprise in the first place. The Time article started out by commenting how these videos “always seemed too good to be true,” but frankly, I thought the promise inherent in the Baby Einstein series—inherent in the very name of the company—was too outlandish to be true, not too good to be true. I hate to sound cynical but I just don’t think the words “Einstein” and “baby” go together. Same for Galileo and baby, and Mozart and baby, and Shakespeare and baby. Undoubtedly the parents who bought the videos knew there was some exaggeration going on there, but then there’s always that niggling hope ... maybe! Maybe if I start right in on him as soon as he exits the womb (or before), maybe my baby WILL be the next Einstein! And thus a multimillion dollar industry was created.

But can we really think Albert Einstein got where he got because his parents made him watch math videos as an infant? My understanding is he got where he got by his own (adult) efforts and desires far more than by his parents’ efforts and desires, and because of his own marvelous capacity for creative thought, which was probably inborn, but even if it wasn’t inborn, it’s not something that could possibly be absorbed via the passive and repetitive activity of watching television.


There’s another video series with the slightly less audacious title of “Your Baby Can Read!”. The package shows an infant maybe old enough to crawl wearing a mortarboard, who appears to be holding a large hardback book and has a very satisfied look on his face (perhaps, before shooting the photo, they’d given him a bottle). The copy on the package urges you to “Start your child NOW!” and claims it’s appropriate for those as young as three months.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended for You

But is it? Is it really a foregone conclusion in our competitive culture that teaching a three-month old to read would be a desirable thing to do? If so, can the Baby Trump videos be far behind, presenting to infants (with the help of puppets and sing-a-longs) the fundamentals of the public stock offering, the hostile takeover, and the bankruptcy reorganization?

Personally, I never wanted my baby to read. I want my seven-year old to read, and he does, but that’s different. It’s different because he’s old enough to have formed an interest in certain books and magazines. And because he wants to comprehend the instructions on Monopoly “chance” cards. And because not every men’s room has a symbol on the door; some of them have only words. In other words, the reason why it’s important for him to read has mostly to do with the content of what he’s reading. It can’t possibly be about the content for a three-month old.

Which begs the question, What’s the hurry? To everything there is a season. I could never see why it was better for my baby to read before everyone else’s baby did, nor did I think it made me a better mom, but in the words of one Brainy Baby fan, “I have impressed my friends with children the same age.” I just hope that’s not what it all comes down to.

I can certainly sympathize with the busy mom who’s trying to grab 10 minutes to take a shower and just needs something to entertain the three-year old while she conducts her business. A little Baby Einstein could come in handy there. But I hope these new reports will herald the beginning of the end of the Baby Genius era in parenting trends. We shouldn’t expect babies or toddlers or even preadolescents to be geniuses. We should just expect them to be kids.




I Resolve to Be More Like a 6-Year Old

Joe and Belle had their first day of school yesterday after a nice, long holiday break, and Joe came home with a list of New Year’s Resolutions which his teacher had apparently asked the kids to formulate on their first day back.

Please Pass the Germs

I went yesterday to buy some liquid soap for my kids’ bathroom. As a lazy person I’m glad they make liquid soap in pump bottles because it means I don’t ever have to wash out the soap dish. Oh, sure, I realize that washing something which is primarily “dirtied” by soap is probably considered easy, but I’m the type who’s always looking for cleaning jobs I can get out of.

Regrets, and Hopes

I just read on the CNN homepage that, according to human rights groups, more than 200,000 children were spanked or paddled in U.S. schools during the past school year.

Stop Me Before I Hurt a Second-Grader

Is there some kind of an Irate-Mom Hotline I can call? I need help; someone needs to intervene before I do something I’ll sorely regret. I’m so incensed with one of my little boy’s classmates I’ve had to ask myself what I might be capable of.

In Case of Disaster

I’ll never forget reading five years ago about Aaron Ralston, the climber who amputated his own right hand in order to free himself from the boulder that had pinned him to the side of a canyon wall in Southern Utah.

Welcome to Motherhood Britney Spears

The last time I flipped through a People magazine in the checkout aisle at the grocery store I saw they had a flattering portrayal of the about-to-give-birth Britney Spears (will someone please, please tell me the Britney pregnancy photos are seriously digitally enhanced), including some pictures of her with her one-year old, Sean Preston.

We're Being Watched

A few weeks ago I asked my 6-year old son, Joe, to please get the dinner dishes off the table. But it was one of our first really nice spring days, and he was already on his way out the back door to play in the yard.

Nature, Nurture, and the Occasional Stern Lecture

My friend Julie’s five-year old daughter whacked off a chunk of her hair the other day for the second time in the space of about ten days. So Julie was beside herself when the little imp turned right around and did it again the very next time she got hold of the scissors.