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Fear and shopping

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A nurse at Squamish General Hospital gave us just one simple piece of advice on child rearing before we brought Eleanor home from the maternity ward — “all you have to do is love her, and don’t drop her on her head.”

I’m pleased to say that we’ve succeeded on both accounts so far, despite her best efforts to squirm out of our arms.

But while babies start out simple, like everything they tend to get more complex over time. The things we do or don’t do in the first two years of her life will help determine who she becomes emotionally and intellectually.

These days that apparently means filling your house with all kinds of brightly coloured, Made In China plastic toys that may or may not be toxic, or stitched together in sweatshops.

The companies that make these toys would have us believe that our children’s emotional and intellectual development hinges on the things we buy. Having a child may be one of the wonders of life, but it’s being commercialized like Christmas or Valentine’s Day.

Take Baby Einstein, a maker of toys and multimedia products for kids of all ages — including a line of controversial DVDs for children as young as three months. I don’t want to take a swing at a company that seems to have done its research and manufactures some pretty good products, but I’d argue that showing your three-month-old baby DVDs probably makes you a bad parent no matter what your intentions are. Television, no matter how well conceived or executed, can never be a substitute for face time with your child and experiences in the real world, unless all you care about is intellectual development.

Even then opinions are mixed. The American Association of Pediatrics discourages TV completely for children under the age of two, while a study by the University of Washington found that kids who watched educational DVDs under the age of two were actually behind other children in language development. For kids 17 to 24 months there were no significant effects from watching video either way, while daily reading and storytelling almost always results in higher language scores for toddlers.

I could excuse Baby Einstein, and their parent corporation Walt Disney Company, for agreeing to disagree on the impact of these videos, but the whole premise of their brand is based on guilt — use our products, the name suggests, and your kids can be as smart as Albert Einstein. Or don’t and live with the consequences.

It not-so-subtly preys on the natural guilt that parents have that they may be too busy to spend a lot of face time with their children, and our fears that our kids will be left behind, first at school and then in life.

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