It started with a study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Science claiming that not only is allowing your baby to watch child learning DVDs like Disney’s Baby Einstein’s not beneficial for your child, it could hinder their learning, specifically vocabulary development. Obviously the people behind Baby Einstein would disagree.
Yesterday the Walt Disney Company called for a retraction of the study pointing to portions of the report that state no testing was done specifically with Baby Einstein DVDs and that the report itself reads:
"The analysis presented here is not a direct test of the developmental
impact of viewing baby DVDs/videos. We did not test through
experimental manipulation whether viewing baby DVDs/videos has a
positive or negative impact on vocabulary acquisition."
I can see why Disney would be upset if the report then recommends less time with the Baby Einstein DVDs if they were never even part of the study.
Today this debate has spilled out into the new ‘Comment’ feature on Google News. Frederick J. Zimmerman, Ph.D. of the Child Health Institute and Associate Professor of Public Health, University of Washington added his comments first, then Gary Foster, SVP, Corp Communications, Disney Consumer Products retorted using Google’s new service.
So now, not only do corporate PR people have to keep an eye on social media for any potential fires, but they have to keep an eye on Google News, a service that may or may not be posting news about you at any moment.
I think that with any edutainment tool you have to use them in moderation. Even Disney never claimed the Baby Einstein DVDs could raise your kid by themselves. Also, as with any childhood learning the key is interaction with adults, other kids, and yes, with specially designed videos. A balance is important.
The University of Washington should not release a report that denigrates certain products without having tested those exact products. They should ask their friends across the campus in the public interest research groups how they test children’s toys for safety before issuing their safety report. I hope a retraction will be swift and well publicized.