Buy Buy Baby – Book Review

by Mike Holman

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The post is part of the Baby Expenses Series. See the entire series here.

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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.

My opinion

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.

Summary

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.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 The Dividend Guy

Somehow these marketers make parents feel guilty if you don’t buy these products – like your kids will be left behind. It really is a powerful concept. Perhaps this should be mandatory reading for all new parents :)

2 FourPillars

Div Guy – I agree. All parents want the best for their children which makes them (us?) great targets for toy companies.

Mike

3 Mr. Cheap

Years ago I did some contract work for one of those after school cram schools. One executive said in a meeting, that there business was amazing, because parents would pay any amount of money for something that they believed would give their kids an advantage in life…

4 MillionDollarJourney

Interesting that you post about this topic today FP! Tomorrow I have a similar type post lined up. :)

5 FourPillars

MDJ – ironically I was going to post this tomorrow but then I read a comment by JD (GSR) that he was reviewing this very book tomorrow so I moved it to today. It’s funny how sometimes great minds (and me) can have the same schedule :)

Mr. Cheap – I’m smelling a business opportunity here…maybe we should market the blog as being “educational”, “will help facilitate your child’s learning” etc etc???

Mike

6 telly

I’ve been eyeing business oppotunities similar to what Cheap mentioned myself. If I wasn’t so lazy, I’d be rich. ;) I would have no problem taking advantage of parents who have money to throw away in the name of raising a kid with an IQ 2 pts higher than their classmates.

Seriously, sometimes being on the outside while watching many of your friends going through the early stages of child rearing can be a great learning experience. Can you remember all you’ve learned once you have a little one yourself (and get bombarded with opinions!) is another matter altogether though!

Great review!

7 FourPillars

Thanks Telly.

It’s definitely a problem to keep your common sense sometimes when you are trying to be a parent.

Mike

8 WoolyWoman

I saw one recently that suggested I should buy their training video and prerecorded sounds of a mother’s heartbeat in order to start training my child in the womb. I had a great laugh about it and sent it to a friend of mine because I had been complaining (jokingly) that my baby was so small (as 7 weeks in the womb) it didn’t yet have a brain. Clearly marketing was trying to tell me I was wrong and should start the training early!!!

I have a friend whose 6 year old has more than he could ever want in terms of toys and games and they get almost everything from the second hand store. She has a very tight budget as a single mom but he never wants for anything because of her thriftiness and because they both are outdoors a lot doing various activities.

Great post, I am going to keep my eye out for the book at the library, if just to reassure myself that NOT playing Mozart for my unborn child isn’t going to delay its development ;)

9 Four Pillars

Thanks WW – I recommend some heavy metal for the little wooly (but not too loud).

Mike

10 mariam

Ooh boy. Guilt is such a powerful motivation. It’s funny how my friends have their toddlers’ academic lives planned out.

Of course we all want the best for our kids, but let them breathe! (this from a non mother :)

11 FourPillars

Mariam – I think that is great advice (hopefully I can follow it!).

Mike

12 guinness416

My mum teaches in a very high profile, old-money school in Dubbilin (one of her students was given land and commercial planning permission for his 21st birthday, to give you a sense of the advantages these kids have). where a lot of the mothers were quite hard-charging lawyers, businesspeople, etc before settling down. So now that energy gets focused on junior and some of the stories she has are very interesting – the kids get all the rugby coaching, foreign travelling, high culture and exam cramming money can buy. And they’re competitive! But my mum picks up lots of cash giving the little darlings extra Irish tuition, so she’s happy.

13 Brip Blap

That sounds like an interesting book – I’ll have to look for a copy of it. My take is (a) Baby Einstein is like crack to pre-toddlers, so it’s useful as a distraction but absolute trash as an educational tool. The Mozart thing is silly, too, although we do play a lot of music around the house all the time for my son – but we decided it doesn’t matter what, so he’s heard everything from pop to rock to disco to classical to jazz. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a toddler dancing to Kanye West…

Anyway, I do think that you can buy educational books, although that’s probably simply a much more sophisticated marketing technique. I just got a copy of “In The Night Kitchen” from my mom for my son and he is deeply fascinated with the pictures, the odd almost-but-not-quite-rhyming text, etc.

And I will say that the desire to see your children smart is almost inherent in being a parent. It’s hard NOT to want to see your kid be the smartest on the block. I beam with pride when my son starts answering questions in Russian and English. It’s cool. Marketers play to this, and I’m sure it’s something that’s been going on as long as commerce – I’m sure Romans bought Genuine Spartan Memory Games (TM) to improve little Virgil’s intellect, too.

14 Brip Blap

Oh, and if you don’t want your son to watch TV, don’t introduce him to Barney. He saw it when we visited some of our neighbors, their son very kindly gave him one of his plush Barney dolls, and now he is maniacally in love with Barney and all the sharing-y goodness he represents.

15 FourPillars

BB – It’s impossible not to want the best for your kid. I guess you just have to decide how best to achieve this “goal” :)

Thanks for the tip about Barney.

Mike

16 JHS

Thanks for participating in this week’s Carnival of Family Life, hosted at Adventures in Juggling. Stop by and read the other wonderful entries!

17 Mrs. Micah

Definitely on my to-read list. I’m fascinated by the idea of children as consumers–it’s like driving by a train wreck. Half is curiousity and half is wanting to protect my own (potential) babies.

I wonder if the library has a copy…

18 FourPillars

Mrs. Micah – thanks for the comment. I borrowed it from my local library so it’s worth a shot.

Mike

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