Child Advocacy Group Bashes Baby Videos

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," May 2, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: What are the benefits of baby shows like that one? An advocacy group says DVDs from companies like the names Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby won't really make your kids smarter and the group has filed a complaint with the government.

So are parents of little ones really getting duped by misleading advertising? Jane Skinner is here with more.

JANE SKINNER, CORRESPONDENT: There are really two issues here. One, are these companies making claims they can't back, namely that these shows are educational? And two, are these DVDs for babies actually harmful? We will get both sides.

Dr. Alvin Poussaint is a psychiatrist. He is also a member of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. That group filed the false advertising complaint with the Federal Trade Commission Monday. Doctor, thanks for being here.

For all these claims that the DVDs may make, that they are educational, I don't know any parent who buys one and says this is my $20 ticket to the Ivy Leagues, really?

DR. ALVIN POUSSAINT, CAMPAIGN FOR A COMMERCIAL FREE CHILDHOOD: I think many parents believe that or imagine that it will help kind of push their child along and give them a jump start at a good education and they may be dreaming of the child going to an Ivy League college.

I think it's the anxiety of the parents, in fact, that makes them buy these videos because the videos just by the very name suggest that they are going to make their babies smarter. Baby Einstein, Brainy Baby.

And so the parents hook into it but there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever — even though these products have been on the market for about 10 years — that they actually are educational for babies and make a difference in the baby's cognitive and intellectual development.

We believe the advertising is false and deceptive.

SKINNER: I talked to a lot of parents in different circles to get the vibe out there. Bottom line, they said, I will keep buying them because it gives me 20 minutes when I can take a shower or vacuum and my baby really, really likes it, bottom line.

Can something with classical music and puppets and dolphins, as you see there, really be harmful?

POUSSAINT: It's unfortunate because most child development, people do not recommend that you plop babies in front of a DVD or video or the TV and then leave them there to watch it without any interaction.

First of all, frequently DVDs are not the best way to learn because they are two-dimensional. Children learn best by playing, using all the senses — touch, smell, taste — in a way that they develop as recommended by every child development book for parents. And it also is introducing babies by imprinting them at a very early age with the habit of watching a screen, watching a TV or video.

We already know that our children watch too much television. They have obesity and other problems because of that. And I think since it has not been demonstrated to have any educational value that it may be some risk to expose these children and their brains to DVDs, baby videos, at such an early age.

SKINNER: All right. Dr. Poussaint, we are going to leave it there because we want to get to the other side of the debate. Thank you very much.

This is what the Baby Einstein company has said in the past about the products. That company, we should point out, is owned by Walt Disney.

"The videos are created specifically for parents or caregivers to enjoy and use with their baby to encourage parent-child interaction. The Baby Einstein company believes that this interaction between a parent or caregiver and their little one is the most important element to enjoying our product."

Well, Brainy Baby is another company named in the complaint. Marsha Grimsley is the director of educational development there.

Marsha, the name of your company, Brainy Baby, and part of your slogan is "A little genius in the making." I mean, you are telling parents that their babies will be smarter, but is that false advertising?

MARCIA GRIMSLEY, BRAINY BABY: Well, first of all, "A little genius in the making" is not a tag line that we still use. It has been retired.

SKINNER: Information that I got today forwarded to me from your company, it was included in there.

GRIMSLEY: The "little genius in the making" tag line was created because every parent thinks their child is smart. Our products are not designed to get your child into an Ivy League school or increase their IQ, and we very clearly state that in our packaging, in our Web site and our parent guides, etc. We don't make false claims.

Our products are designed to educate and expose children to preschool concepts and educational concepts that every child needs to learn in school. We think it's ridiculous that this group is jumping to conclusions when the research, as he said, the research isn't there. It hasn't been concluded. There is no research to support his point, either.

SKINNER: There isn't a ton of research done on children this age partly because parents don't want their babies involved in any sort of trial or study. Marsha, I have to ask you about this idea, Dr. Poussaint's group what they want to do, want the FTC to do put a warning label on DVDs not unlike what you would see on a pack of cigarettes, saying that a group of pediatricians in this company has said that television viewing under two is just not acceptable.

GRIMSLEY: I'm sorry. I didn't hear that. But I believe you asked me about a warning label?

SKINNER: Right the doctor would like a warning label on these DVDs.

GRIMSLEY: Well, to be honest we think that's a little bit ridiculous. I think that group is frankly not giving parents enough credit. I think that it's silly to get involved in something like that. Parents, for the most part, do what's best for their children. And parents are not going to do harm to their children.

SKINNER: We're going to have to send it back to John. We are out of time.

GIBSON: All right Jane. Thank you.

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