Of course it was too good to be true.
The New York Times reported Thursday that Disney is offering a refund to buyers of its ubiquitous "Baby Einstein" videos, which did not, as promised, turn babies into wunderkinds. Apparently, all those puppets, bright colors, and songs were what we had feared all along-a mind-numbing way to occupy infants.
This news has rocked the parenting world, which had embraced the videos as a miraculous child-rearing staple. Videos that make your kid smarter while you prepare dinner? Genius!
Or not. According to the article, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two years old stay away from watching screens. In the letter threatening Disney with a class-action lawsuit for "deceptive advertising," public health lawyers hired by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood cited a study which found a link between early television exposure and later problems with attention span.
For many parents, this was the most unsettling of "duh" moments, and a confirmation that nothing, when it comes to child-rearing, is as ever easy as we'd like to make it. So why were we so quick to seize on Baby Einstein videos as technological tutors?
Call it the perfect storm of parenting. Who doesn't want to believe that there is a magical, wondrous, no-parental-guidance-required product that will turn their kids into Mensa members? The combination of our lack of time, our paranoia over our kids performance, and our faith in technology primed this generation of parents to accept the clever advertising around "Baby Einstein" as truth, just as parents before us have seized on corporal punishment, or the teachings of Dr. Spock.
Still, the idea that a caper this big could be pulled off (according to the Times, in "a 2003 study, a third of all American babies from 6 months to 2 years old had at least one 'Baby Einstein' video") is mind-boggling. Disney's refund is about as close as we're going to get to an actual admission that we were sold snake oil, and it casts a pall over the other "educational" toys out there.