“Baby Einstein” and “Your Baby Can Read” appear to be among the best selling educational products for children, hinting at the promise to produce hours of fun and pint-sized geniuses. One need only to tune into the current roster of infomercials to see that the baby turned genius products are getting a lot of airplay. Behind the smiley faces and giggly glee of the soon to be genius babies and toddlers are the enthusiastic parents cheering little Tommy and Suzy to a future full-ride scholarship to Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. Perhaps only Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity will rival the accomplishments destined for pupils studying under such infomercial giants as “Your Baby Can Read.”
The latest cog in the “Uber-baby” making machine are the streams of gym and fitness DVD’s for babies and toddlers. Thinly veiled promises of fun and future gold medals entice many parents to obtain memberships and collections of baby fitness DVD’s for their children. While none of these academic and sports training programs flat out boast that will produce baby superstars, one can’t help but to reach such a conclusion after viewing 30 minutes of astonishing baby feats. Rather quickly, it becomes clear that the parents behind these uber- babies and toddlers are in it to win it. No settling for second place in this infomercial terrain. With the aid of these academic and fitness programs, their children are sure to obliterate their fellow baby and toddler competition. Indeed, these parents drink up the elixir of their children’s future superiority like a smooth shot of whiskey. As I watched scene after scene of these determined parents on my television screen, I wondered what was this all about. Is this about providing a foundation from which children can build the skill sets they will need to succeed, or is this about parents living vicariously through their children?
Does the happiness of children depend on whether they make honor roll or all-star on the varsity team? Isn’t the maxim that most parents try to ingrain in the minds of their children that it matters not what they have or achieve, but rather their character? What I see in these infomercials is not character, but dominance. Now, there is nothing wrong with supporting and building strengths and talents in children. Looking back, I wish my parents had supported some of my interests and strengths. Where things get skewed, I believe, is when parents shift their focus solely on building future academic superstars and sports giants. Life is a fickle friend that both gives and takes. Academic and athletic prowess can be here today, but gone tomorrow. While there will most likely always be room for another valedictorian and MVP, what society is in desperate need of are people of character, people who are willing to boldly stand for truth, integrity, and accountability. Parents are key players in the character building process for they are usually the most prominent influence in every stage of a child’s developmental chain. Being that I do not have any children myself, I know that I cannot fully comprehend the challenges of rearing a child. This dialogue comes solely from my concern that children are losing the whimsy that I had as a child; a time where they can run and play “Red light, Green light, Go,” without being expected to break down the mechanics of the game in a 350 word essay. More important, I am concerned that this heightened focus on achieving academic and athletic accolades by the age of 5 has tipped the scale toward building the exterior instead of the interior. I believe that a healthy balance can be struck between these interests. What this balance will look like for each family will of course vary, but if from time to time a child can freely play a game of “Red light, Green light, Go,” well I think that is a good thing.