Sorry, Parents: That “Make Your Baby a Genius,” Early-Learning Product You Bought Doesn’t Do Jack

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We know, we know: Your baby is the smartest baby ever. You made sure of that when you shelled out big bucks for a program to teach her to read even before she could walk. You know the one—DVDs, flashcards, flip books, all guaranteed, if used on a daily basis, to get your special snowflake into the best preschool, the best prep school, and then Harvard here we come!

Um. Not.


A new study in the Journal of Educational Psychology tells the sad, sad tale: Researchers took 117 babies ages nine to 18 months and split them into two groups. They gave the parents in one group a “baby media product” to use daily over seven months; the other group got squat. Over the seven months, the researchers conducted painstaking scientific analysis that included home visits, monthly assessments, and lab visits in which language comprehension was determined via eye-tracking technology. In the end, there were, and we quote, “no differences between the infants exposed to baby media and the control group on 13 of the 14 assessments.”

But wait! We know that sound: It’s the unfurling of hope in your heart! Thirteen out of 14—what was the 14th assessment, the one where differences did occur?

Go away, hope: That would be an assessment of the parents’ beliefs as to whether their babies were learning to read. And sure enough, the parents of the babies with the media kits firmly believed they were.

In a final lightning bolt of irony, the study was conducted by researchers at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University. And that’s ironic because why?

Because of all the words one never wants to hear one’s kid-glove-raised kids mutter, “I want to go to NYU” should rank first and foremost, seeing as tuition, fees, room and board now add up to more than $63,500 and the school is notoriously stingy with financial aid. Sorry.

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