IN RESPONSE TO THE NEW STUDY, THE COMPANY IS RENAMING ITS MAIN PRODUCT LINE "BABY CLETUS"

41qtx42r15l_aa280_Science has revealed what FD has always suspected: Insipid videos make for insipid kids. Watching the "Baby Einstein" line of brilliantly-marketed, cheaply-produced videos about animals, colors, art, and music actually make your kids less bright than they would be otherwise, a University of Washington professor has concluded after studying 1,000 families. Dimitri Christakis found that:

For every hour a day that babies 8 to 16 months old were shown such popular series as "Brainy Baby" or "Baby Einstein," they knew six to eight fewer words than other children. . .

Adding insult to injury, Christakis added that he'd rather kids watched "American Idol," because, he explained to the LA Times, there is at least a chance their parents would watch with them — which does have developmental benefits.

Christakis came to the same realization that we did about these videos - their alien-bright colors and ambient sounds are particularly effective not for teaching kids, but mesmerizing them, so parents can leave their children alone in front of the TV while they do whatever it is they'd rather do - like, say, posting on their blogs. Gawker, taking up its own cudgel this morning, dug, "Hope that extra time you spent on your Blackberry was worth the lifetime of stagnant wages and mediocre employment to which you've doomed your offspring."

We much prefer the "Eyewitness" nature videos from DK, which we often showed our kids when they were little. Even though the narration was over their heads, they at least showed the sights and sounds of the real world. In fact, it's always been one of our nagging concerns that Tiny has such a strong preference for unreal, candy-colored cartoon shows, while Fellow prefers watching non-fiction shows.

Fellow did enjoy a couple of Baby Einstein books he received as gifts when he was little, including one about Van Gogh, which for us was still ruined by the ridiculous, superfluous "Van Goat" character which contributed nothing to the art appreciation, and made our kid think (for a brief while) that the actual artist's name might actually be "Van Goat."

And while we're on the subject: What the Hell is the point of putting a bandage on Van Goat's ear? Are the producers making fun of Van Gogh's depression? Do they think the artist's self-mutilation is a "teachable moment" for parents and three-year-olds? No, really, what the Hell?

DROOL IF YOU LOVE MCDONALD'S

Mcdonalds_archesWhy do kids love McDonald's so much? A Stanford professor peddling a new study says it's all about the marketing. The brand's advertising is so ubiquitous in a child's world that the mere sight of a Mc Donald's logo will make most kids age 3-5 salivate, claims lead researcher Tom Robinson.

FD, however, is skeptical. Here's how the study was done: Sixty-three kids enrolled in Head Start - significantly, all but two of whom had previously eaten at McDonald's, and many of whom ate their regularly - were given identical hamburgers, chicken nuggets and french fries, milk or juice, and carrots. The difference? Some kids got the food in McDonald's wrappers, on McDonald's trays. The others got their meals on plain plates, cups, and napkins. The winners of subsequent taste tests, every time, for every food? The items in McDonald's packaging.

Today's Chicago Tribune interviewed several child-development advocates bemoaning the stunning effect of McDonald's marketing on even the youngest consumer, and they're right to be concerned, but our knee-jerk response to this study is: Well, duh! Of COURSE kids will say they prefer McDonald's and there are any number of reasons why they would do so, beyond the company's commercials. Food in McDonald's packages means eating out. It reminds kids of good times out for dinner with their families. Other kids think McDonald's is cool, so in the absence of any difference between the foods, they'll choose McDonald's to look cool. We've seen Fellow do it when discussing products he could care less about. Is that marketing influence or peer pressure? Maybe both, but there's also this: McDonald's restaurant food, placed next to unmarked, generic foods, may look like it's more expensive, and, in the kids' mind, better.

As U. Chicago marketing professor Pradeep Chintagunta told the Tribune, a fairer study would have gauged kids' preferences for the McDonald's label versus another familiar brand, such as Mickey Mouse.

Are we saying we have no problem with McDonald's? No way. Our kids have eaten there maybe five times in their lives, and only for other kids' birthday parties or because of a desperate time crunch as we took a long-distance drive. Still, they claim to love the Arches, and while we find that terribly annoying and disturbing, the restaurant happens to be ubiquitous, and it's vastly more kid-friendly than most restaurants, so why wouldn't they think it's good? Kids assume that successful businesses are inherently good, which, while wrong, is entirely logical. We still don't take them there.

HE'S YOUR ICE CREAM MAN. STOP HIM WHEN HE'S PASSING BY . . . OR MAYBE NOT.

The driver of a Mister Softee ice cream truck was arrested yesterday on charges of selling cocaine and marijuana from his truck while it was parked outside a middle school in Queens, the police said.

IT'S LIKE WE'VE ALWAYS TOLD OUR FELLOW BLOGGERS: SOMETIMES, THE THINGS YOU DO TO GET ATTENTION WILL BACKFIRE ON YOU

The self-declared pedophile whose blog about children he observed in his Southern California neighborhood recently got Page One attention in the New York Times—a spotlight which Freelance Dad (who has an unblemished record of non-pedophilia) still awaits—has been hit with a remarkable restraining honor by a California state judge, who ordered him to stay 10 yards away from every minor in the state (although, it should be noted, the man has no criminal record and the photos he posted on his Web sites were of clothed children). As a UCLA First Amendment authority told the Times, the restraining order is effectively a banishment from the state of California.

Today, another of Slate's consistently satisfying Explainer columns details how sex offenders contend with the restrictions on their residency and travel typically imposed by judges.

NO, DIEGO, NO!

Go_diego_go_resized200In case you missed it, 1.5 million more toys are under recall, as Fisher-Price becomes the latest company to discover that Chinese factories love lead paint.

. . . . Fisher-Price is recalling 83 types of toys — including the popular Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters — because their paint contains excessive amounts of lead. The worldwide recall . . . involves . . . plastic preschool toys made by a Chinese vendor and sold in the United States between May and August.

Still, to the company's credit, it apparently fast-tracked its recall so that two-thirds of the products in question never made it onto store shelves. As toy-industry observers did not need to note (but did), Fisher-Price could teach some corporate PR lessons to RC2, the maker of the recently recalled, lead-paint-enhanced Thomas products. (Fisher-Price also took a charge of $30 million for the recall.) You can check the full list of recalled models here.

In a positive sign, the Times reports that "Nickelodeon — which owns the characters Dora the Explorer and Diego — has decided to introduce a third-party monitor to check up on all of the companies that make toys under its brands, including Mattel." Sesame Workshop appears ready to follow suit.

[PS: RC2 has been hit with a pair of lawsuits by parents "demanding the company provide medical monitoring to children who may have ingested lead paint from its products." And the company's chief has finally said something about its missteps, but it's not "sorry."]

07thai265IN A RELATED STORY, TINY GIRL HAS APPLIED FOR ADMISSION TO THE BANGKOK POLICE ACADEMY

BANGKOK, Thailand — Police officers who break rules will be forced to wear hot pink armbands featuring "Hello Kitty," the Japanese icon of cute, as a mark of shame, a senior officer said yesterday. Police officers caught littering, parking in a prohibited area, or arriving late — among other misdemeanors — will be forced to stay in the division office and wear the armband all day, said Police Colonel Pongpat Chayaphan. The officers won't wear the armband in public. The striking armband features Hello Kitty sitting atop two hearts -- The Associated Press

MANY SEVEN-YEAR-OLDS UNDERSTAND THE FOOD CHAIN. VEGANSEXUALS, NOT SO MUCH.

Vegans in New Zealand are declaring that they will no longer have sex with carnivores, or at least that's what they're telling their local paper:

"I would not want to be intimate with someone whose body is literally made up from the bodies of others who have died for their sustenance," [one vegansexual] said.

Christchurch vegan Nichola Kriek . . . . could understand people not wanting to get too close to non-vegan or non-vegetarians. "When you are vegan or vegetarian, you are very aware that when people eat a meaty diet, they are kind of a graveyard for animals."

Right. Now, children, can anyone tell us what we grow in animal graveyards? Yes, you, in the back? Right! Crops! Good for you! Now, go explain that to the vegans.

TRAGEDY IN BED-STUY IS FD.COM'S MUST-READ ARTICLE OF THE WEEK

An 18-year-old mother remains behind bars, and her 11-month-old daughter remains unresponsive on a ventilator, a month after the girl almost drowned in a shallow bathtub in their Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment. The mother had left the girl, and a visiting two-year-old, in the tub as she went down the hall to tend to some boiling rice. Yesterday's wrenching Times article asks the right questions, like, how do prosecutors decide that this teen mother ought to be in prison, charged with reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child, while other parents in similar cases do not? The answer, well worth reading, is that it depends, and that making that call is an inexact science for the authorities. In any event, our takeaway is that it's hard to imagine how society benefits by keeping this girl in detention at Rikers.

August 7, 2007 | Permalink | Subscribe to RSS

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Comments

Wow. Its a good thing I refuse to shop at Walmart/Target/Sam's Club etc... Support your local toy stores. They may end up being more expensive toys and your kid will have fewer of them in the long run, but at least they won't end up with lead in their system

Posted by: Terance | Aug 22, 2007 10:52:56 AM

Yeah, one of the most interesting side effects of these recalls is that the "Made in the USA" label has suddenly become a great piece of marketing for a toy. It'll be fascinating to see how this plays out during the Christmas shopping season. . .

Posted by: freelancedad | Aug 22, 2007 11:04:01 AM

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