Your Baby Definitely Can’t Read. Sorry.

November 2, 2009

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Toddler vaccuum

But she may be able to vacuum.

I know that those of us who noticed the story were shocked — shocked! — last week, when it was widely reported that the Walt Disney Company is extending a refund program for its “Baby Einstein” videos. Apparently – and, again, I cannot stress how stunned I am by this  – when babies are strapped into their little vibrating chairs and plunked in front of a television to watch these supposedly educational videos, they actually do not become geniuses.

In fact, if I had to guess what is the biggest goal achieved by the babies who watched the videos, I would say that these babies were the ones with the cleanest, most exfoliated and shiny-haired mothers. Why? Because that’s the only thing that anyone in her right mind would be looking for in a video for babies: Fifteen minutes to take a shower. And, as someone who really, really needs to take a shower every single day, I support that goal. Let’s just not make it into anything loftier than it is.

Are consumers really going to return the “Baby Einstein” DVDs for refunds? Clearly a rhetorical question – of course they are! It’s free money – I might even see if I have any left over in a drawer somewhere.  And, let’s face it, I live in a country where people sue McDonald’s because they are obese. Ostensibly, all we need is to buy some products — videos, diets, creams and enhancers — and we will be rich, thin, beautiful, smart, and sexually satisfied. And if anything goes wrong, we can always sue the pants off someone.

All of which leads me to a little something knows as YBCR; or, if you’re fortunate enough to be out of this loop, Your Baby Can Read. The YBCR web site promises “enhanced learning ability” and “future success” — that last one should set off a Liberty-size warning bell, but judging by the testimonials on the web site or on Amazon, people are eating it up and I’m sure Dr. Titzer, the creator, is rolling in the dough. (My favorite comment on Amazon begins like this (the writer is referring to her baby): “He  didn’t immediately take to the dvds, but after a couple of weeks of forcing him to watch them…” Forcing your baby to watch DVDs? Well, that’s just good parenting!)

The line-up of videos shows babies “reading” words aloud off of cards. Or, if they are too small to actually say the words, but so smart that they have learned how to read, they can just point to something, like their toes, and mumble something along the lines of “Tssssssoooooooh.” Genius!

Aa quick Google search reveals that even Dr. Titzer, the creator of the videos, admits that the babies in the videos are not actually reading. I hope it goes without saying (so now I will say it) that the babies have memorized the words they are “reading.” Even parents who swear by the videos admitted that their children could only, uhm, “read” the words they had learned in the program. In other words, they have no actual reading skills at all.

It’s honestly difficult to know where to begin the critique of such inanity. I guess we could start in the Land of Make Believe, by pretending the product actually works and babies — little “goo-goo, ga-ga” BABIES — can learn how to read. Might I ask what is the point is of their reading? Are they going to read your neglected New Yorkers and summarize articles for you? Are they going to get little baby jobs at the library or food store to bring in some extra diaper money? And, speaking of diapers, maybe we could flash the babies a sign that reads “If you can read this, please stop taking a dump in your pants.”

I’m no child development expert, but I am a parent and I believe that qualifies me to ask, What could possibly be the point of spending all that time with your baby, hours you will never recover, forcing them to memorize the shapes of various words? It makes me sad, and mad. Babies are supposed to learn how to point at things and pick up objects. They are supposed to laugh and babble and drool and be babies. The best thing you can do is read to them, play with them, and speak to them in your normal adult voice.

If, when they are a little older, they show a lot of interest in letters and rhyming and reading, then, sure, start sounding out those letters and playing word games! Maybe you will develop a life-long lover of books, like me (who, by the way, learned to read in first grade).

If there is any part of you that think it’d be better to put it a Your Baby Can Read DVD, here is another link for you: It’s called Ultimate Colon Cleanse, and it will rid you of internal parasites that you didn’t even know you had! It must be true because they have this amazing story on the web site, about a man who fathered children when he was 130 years old — crazy!

Ah, what the hell: Here’s a link to the Church of Scientology, too. I’m not sure why, but it just feels right.

  • rebbycarey

    Lise – this is fantastic and reminds me of the people who “potty train” their 9-month old babies. I spoke with one mother who did this and essentially every 10 minutes she ran over to the potty, and held her undiapered baby above the potty making a “shhhhhhh” noise in its face. After only six months, he was potty trained! (I hope I am not offending anyone here.) Seriously – for six months she was chained to a potty shhhh-ing in her kids face so he could be potty trained earlier than other babies. That must have been so FUN for everyone! If she did the reading videos while on the potty, think of those birds falling from the sky with just one stone!

    All of this stuff is just so weird – what is the rush? And where is the fun?

  • lcarrigg

    I have also heard of that crazy potty stuff. Are some parents driven by fear? Like, being afraid that their kid won't eventually do all the stuff that most kids do, so they feel like they have to jump start everything so that in their minds they are ahead of the pack? I rarely make any comments about kid-related stuff or parenting because a) it's such a minefield, and b) I am REALLY far from the perfect parent myself. This one just pissed me off enough that I needed to rant. Thanks for reading.

  • Cathy

    loved your post. as a firm believer in showers, I concur!!

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