The post is part of the Baby Expenses Series. See the entire series here.
I recently read a fascinating book called “Buy, Buy Baby” written by Susan Thomas. The book takes a look at the proliferation of marketing behind baby toys and children’s television shows. The book subtitle “How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds” should give you a pretty good idea of the author’s opinion of the topic.
One of the main topics of the book is the trend for Boomer generation and Gen X moms to want to buy “educational” toys for their children. In the case of the Boomer moms, Thomas says they wanted to buy educational toys and games for their children in the hopes that the children will be smarter. Gen X moms on the other hand say they don’t want to push their children too hard but they buy educational toys anyways.
Some of the specific products and trends that she covers are:
Mozart effect: The idea was that listening to Mozart would improve your intelligence. This idea was based on a very small study on college students which was later debunked but regardless a number of CDs featuring the connection between Mozart and kids were best sellers.
Baby Einstein: The name says it all. These videos were originally created by Julie Aigner-Clark and were turned into an extremely successful business that was sold to Disney. Thomas seems to think that parents buy these videos in the hope of adding a few IQs to little junior, but the message I’ve gotten from various parents I know who like these videos is that they are a great way to keep junior occupied for at least a few moments and who cares if they are educational or not?
She details how the toy industry tries to sell expensive products based on the idea that the toys are “good” or “educational” for your kids when in actual fact they have no extra benefit compared to old fashioned toys such as lego (one of my old favourites).
Another big topic she covers is television shows that are geared toward young children as well as toddlers. Her opinion is that children under the age of two shouldn’t be watching any television at all.
I’m not a big fan of marketing and as far as toys go – I’m well aware that most toys are geared towards the parents not the children. We haven’t bought our son many gifts mainly because his relatives back a truck full of toys up to the house every time they visit. I did however convince my mom to buy some toys for him this summer at yard sales which saved a lot of money. As far as television goes, we haven’t let him watch very much tv but at his age (16 months) he doesn’t really have much interest in it. We’ll have to see what happens when he gets older and decide how much tv we want to let him watch.
A fantastic read if you have ever bought or thought about buying a toy for a child. The book is well researched and well written and I enjoyed it tremendously.
BusinessWeek had an excellent review on this book which is where I first heard about it.