A national watchdog group that campaigned successfully to change the way the popular “Baby Einstein” program markets its product is now trying to get the folks at “Your Baby Can Read” to do the same.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood recently filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that “Your Baby Can Read” uses deceptive marketing to get parents to buy its DVDs, flashcards and other materials.
Last year, an NBC News investigation that aired on TODAY found that child development experts from coast to coast were of the collective opinion that while young children can be made to recognize or memorize words, the brains of most infants and toddlers are just not developed enough to actually learn to read at the level the way the enticing television ads claim they can.
"It's deceptive, and it's really harmful. Parents are shelling out all this money for something that is basically snakeoil,” said Susan Linn, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "We were just so pleased that the TODAY show took this on. It's the first expose we've seen about this product."
Linn’s group claims in its FTC complaint that “Your Baby Can Read” is not only false and misleading, the program “poses significant health and safety risks to infants” who are encouraged to sit in front of TVs and computer monitors by parents who hope they can get a headstart on life by teaching their children to read early.
“There’s no evidence that ‘Your Baby Can Read’ is doing anything for babies except potentially harming them by getting them hooked on screens so early in life,” said Linn. “If parents follow the ‘Your Baby Can Read’ instructions, after 9 months, babies would have spent over a full week of 24 hour days in front of a screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under the age of 2. So does the White House task force on childhood obesity.”
Linn says parents have been hoodwinked by the product. "We want the FTC to stop "Your Baby Can Read" from false and deceptive marketing, and we want "Your Baby Can Read" to offer refunds to all those parents who have been duped," she said.
The FTC confirmed that they are reviewing the new complaint. Asked for comment, “Your Baby Can Read” told NBC News: “We are proud of our accomplishments … Thousands of parents have shared the success stories of their children with us, and hundreds have sent us videos of their children’s progress.”
Asked last year about those who are of opinion that children cannot really learn to read until they are 4 or 5 years old, the creator of “Your Baby Can Read” dismissed the criticisms.
“They’re all wrong,” said Dr. Robert Titzer, who calls himself an infant learning expert but actually holds a graduate degree in “human performance” — the study of motor skills.
Titzer told TODAY at the time that his program is backed by scientific research. He acknowledged that it starts with memorization, but insisted it leads to reading.
“The baby does learn to read,” he said. “My children could read better at age 4 than I could at age, you know, at my age.”
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s fight against “Baby Einstein” brought customer refunds and changes in how that product is marketed in 2006. It is still on the market, however.
The FTC closed its investigation in 2007 without recommending any enforcement action. The agency noted at the time that “Baby Einstein” had voluntarily revised its claims and that there were no conclusive scientific studies about the effects of watching too much television on infants or toddlers.
Where does that leave parents? Experts say the best way to teach your baby to read is free: Read to them, sign to them and expose them to language. And when they are ready, they’ll read.