Proving it’s never too early to offer your child a terrible education

I was tooling around diapers.com and clicked on the category “fetal education systems.” Not only was it not a joke, there were actual things to buy in there, including the $180 Prenatal Education System, which is exactly what it sounds like — a set of bellyphones with a ‘patented prenatal curriculum’ with ‘naturally derived’ lessons to teach one’s fetus how to learn.

What bothers me the most, actually, is how many people have not only purchased this product but who absolutely rave about it. Moms credit this thing with everything from their baby’s ‘sweet nature’ to a 3-month-old’s ability to push buttons on a toy for 6-month-olds.

Seriously. Check out the three latest reviews on Amazon’s website:

“… Our daughter was born wide-eyed and inquisitive. The doctor who delivered her (and several of the nurses) commented on how alert she was – the doctor telling us that she was one of the most alert newborns he’d ever delivered. She was just “with it” from the very beginning – watching everything…”

“… He never had colic, has been extremely happy and expressive since he was born, laughs as if it’s rolling from his toes since he was 4 months, latched on immediately after birth and today has a vocabulary of about 50 words, not including animal sounds he can make or hand gestures he’s memorized for his favorites songs. I highly recommend this product!”

“…While he did have colic during the first 3 months of life (milk allergy, which runs in my family), he was very alert and advanced ever since birth. He was holding his head up within the first few days and was very aware of his voices and surroundings immediately. He has consistently been at least a month early with all of his milestones… Neither my husband nor I come from musical backgrounds or have any aptitude. My son have been dancing since he started walking (11 months). He understands rhythm and even does air drums to music that he hears (including classical). He even hums and tries to match the tune of washing machines, engines and any other interesting noises to little boys. His teachers at daycare always comment on his love of music and say he nearly explodes in excitement when the music teacher walks through the door every week. I imagine his sense of rhythm comes from BabyPlus.”

Well.

Anna could recognize the Waltz of the Flowers (that’s The Nutcracker, Op. 71, No. 13, for those of you not prenatally educated) by her first Christmas home, and could hum the March of the Toy Soldiers by her second. Is this, perhaps, because she is Russian?  At barely three, she could not only gallop but full-on skip better than the four year olds in her ballet class, and this is a child who couldn’t even sit up unassisted when she left her orphanage at 10 months. She has always been able to put her shoes on the correct feet; it’s almost freakish but she has never once, I SWEAR, put her right shoe on her left foot; I’m just as ready to SWEAR that her birthmother never wore a BabyPlus get-up.

A kid in her class can draw perfectly proportioned human figures. Another four-year-old we know can throw a regulation-size basketball through a regulation-size hoop reliably. My cousin was potty trained at 11 months; she couldn’t walk on her own to the bathroom yet but as long as she had reliable transportation, she didn’t need a diaper. My niece could sing Phantom of the Opera at 9. My sister got the humor of Young Frankenstein — and could tell a perfectly timed joke herself — at three. I remember my dad taking us to movies as kids, and then playing the score from memory when we got home. I have been able to put my ankles behind my head forever , and can still drop a perfect split and I’m old.

It’s parlor tricks, people, funny stories to share, until and unless it becomes something more. Then go ahead and attribute it to gadgets or your Tiger Parenting or whatever, but connect all the dots. For all my flexibility I can’t walk from one end of the house to the other without tripping, spilling, or otherwise causing wreckage: on whom, or on what, can I blame that?

That is what is so insidious about shit like this. Everyone wants wonderful things for their children, and here’s the thing: everyone has wonderful things to talk about, quirky accomplishments and capabilities, if we just pay attention to our kids instead of to silly products. Everyone wants to hear that such-and-such will imbue our kids with amazing capabilities, so we’ll believe anything. And if you don’t remember delivery room nurses and doctors admiring your newborn, you had a few emotions of your own at the moment. And probably some drugs.

Use the logic that “it can’t harm them” only if you absolutely, 100%, know that to be true. Which it isn’t.

There are negative reviews, too, including scary ones: “Starting at around 30 weeks, I used the BabyPlus system as directed. My daughter was in a breached position (head up), with her left ear facing my outer stomach for most of the pregnancy. Due to her positioning, the BabyPlus system was playing primarily into her left ear. She was born on July 16th (2008), with permanent (moderate – possibly moderate to severe) sensorineural hearing loss in her left ear. This type of hearing loss is mainly “..due to poor hair cell function. The hair cells may be abnormal at birth…There are both external causes of damage, like noise trauma …” My husband’s family and my family do not have any history of hearing loss. Needless to say, we’re in shock. Our daughter will be wearing a hearing aid for the rest of her life – starting now, at 4 months old. I cannot guarantee that the hearing loss was caused by this product; but, this seems like too much of a coincidence. I regret using this product and would like to hear from anyone who has had a similar experience. I could not keep a clear conscience, if I did not post this warning.”

And of course the company president writes in its defense: “…Sadly, 3 babies per thousand in the US are born with permanent hearing loss, among the most common birth disorders. BabyPlus incorporates a technical preventive limiting its sounds to well below those of the mother’s own internal heartbeat, far less than much of the noise which surrounds us all…”

A quick review of headlines and links showed tons of celebrity endorsements for this silly thing, but nothing more scientific than reviews at about.com and healthnewsdigest.com. Many endorsers do so with a self-deprecating comment along the lines of  “we were skeptical, but we figured it can’t hurt …” Well, it can hurt, so why would anyone take a chance?

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Published in: on May 22, 2011 at 4:19 PM  Leave a Comment  
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