Saturday, January 9, 2010

Barriers to Building Relationships with Babies: Marketing and the Perfect Parent

More than 4 million babies are born each year in the United States, millions more are born in other countries around the world. For companies selling goods and services to new parents, these babies represent a perpetual marketing opportunity for an enormous array of products that seem to make it possible to be a “perfect, confident, and carefree” parent. Unfortunately, such marketing may result in desperate parents spending money on things that they don’t need and don’t work. Even worse, some of these products may interfere directly with parents’ relationships with their babies.

Lot’s of Choices, Lot’s of Money

A quick look at baby products listed on a popular discount store website revealed 234 different products intended to help you keep your baby occupied including more than 50 baby gyms, 23 baby swings, and 54 bouncers and “entertainers.” These products ranged in price from about $20 to more than $200 each. The time and costs involved in finding and buying the "best" bouncer or the "perfect" swing must seem staggering to new parents. In addition to the expense, there is another downfall to having so many gizmos available for today’s baby. Much of this baby “gear” (as it is called on the websites) is meant to keep babies quiet and distracted and away from their parents. As you know by now, we emphasize the need to look at your baby, to watch for cues, and to respond. All of these actions build trust and give your baby the best start for future relationships. We’ve also told you how talking to your baby helps your baby build language skills. All the “gear” in the world cannot replace your vital role in your baby’s life. Now, we’re not saying that you shouldn’t have or use any of these products but their overuse can be harmful and you certainly don’t need to have any of them to help your baby grow and develop.

The Case Against Baby Einstein (and other videos targeted to infants)

Over the last few years, videos targeted for infants have also grown in popularity. Many of the manufacturers imply that watching the images and listening to the music on these videos results in enhanced development, increased intelligence, and early school readiness. One of the most well-known of these products in the US is sold under the brand name of “Baby Einstein.” Last October, the Disney Company, the current owner the brand, offered purchasers refunds on the DVDs because of a growing concern that the advertising claims for the videos were not supported by research. In fact, some of the research had indicated that viewing videos at very young ages (6 to 16 months) had actually been associated with temporary delays in language development. Other researchers have found that having a television on in the room mesmerizes babies and reduces their interactions with their caregivers. For young babies, it may not be possible to pay attention to both the images and the sound on videos, limiting their ability learn words associated with the pictures that they see. Babies’ brains are not hardwired to watch and learn from video images, they are hardwired to watch and learn from you! We don’t want you to panic if you’ve been using baby videos to keep your baby occupied during the day. The researchers report that these potential negative effects of video exposure disappear as babies get older. But, you should realize that TV is not a reliable or trustworthy babysitter and lots of TV isn’t good for anyone. The American Academy of Pediatrics has solid evidence behind their recommendation that babies under 2 should not watch TV or videos.

The Good News and the Bad News

The good news is that you really don’t need any of the baby entertainment products to be a wonderful parent. The most valuable entertainer, teacher, and soother for your baby is you. Nothing extra needs to be purchased. The bad news is that your baby really needs your time and energy, just when you might think you don’t have any left to give. Human babies need human beings to comfort, teach, hold, and talk to them.

A large number of you probably just said (maybe out loud) “Get real! How am I supposed to cook dinner, pay the bills, get ready for work, or even take a shower without the swing/cradle/bouncer/baby gym/video products?” You probably think I’ve forgotten about how hard it is to be a parent AND live a life with moments and responsibilities that don’t involve wipees. You might be partially right; it is amazing how the rough parts of parenting fade away with time. Fortunately, I am surrounded by women in the "trenches" ready to share their tips about how they managed to get things done and get through the day without $1400 worth of products or baby videos.

Next time: Some tips for entertaining your busy baby without breaking the bank.


  1. Here! Here! I agree 100%.
    I'm raising my first child, and the rule of thumb in our house is "If it was good enough for our parents, it's good enough for us" ... when I was a child, we didn't even own a TV. Toys were not electronical and few were battery operated - and this is how we're trying to raise our baby girl. We *do* have a couple of "modern" toys, but how do you stop people gifting you things you may not want or agree with?

  2. Another great question! We'll put it on the list for future posts. I hope that you'll chime in when we post our list of ways to entertain baby without all the gadgets. You must have lots of great ideas. - Jane

  3. Lets face it, we are parents caught in the midst of a generation exploding with digital integration of almost every part of our lives. Denying it for ourselves and our children will only leave us to be no better off than our parents/grandparents are now, barely able to play card games and check their email. While i do not feel it is good to swarm a child with electronic stimulation instead of good ol' fashion family bonding and regular toys but I think there is something to be said about such gifts.

  4. Erica - you have a great point. Children do need to have access to the new technology that surrounds us. But babies do not. Babies minds are best shaped by human interaction. We're not suggesting that children be denied access to gadgets, only that the introduction of electronic input is delayed.