The Superbaby Syndrome (1)

Aldous Huxley has rolled over in his grave.

The Youtube user ‘sociallyskilled’ is in the process of posting videos of her children, including video of an unassisted birth, and her youngest child learning to use sign language and sing Abba songs.

Strangelove correlates this with an American desire to create the super baby. Indeed, there is a superbaby syndrome in the US and Canada, but it’s not the babies who have the disease. It’s the parents who are ill.

Before, reading to your child and playing classical music were the rumoured methods of giving your infant a headstart in the world. A little Sesame Street didn’t hurt either. Recently, new video games and electronic toys have begun to emerge, targeting infants as consumers and promising improvements in early childhood cognitive development.

The V Smile, from Vtech -

The V Smile, from Vtech -

But, as Strangelove reminds us, there is no evidence to show that these products have improved the cognitive development of children.

Indeed, I would suggest that they have much more to do with a parent’s needs, wants, and desires than improving a child’s life.

Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D, agrees. He suggests parents should beware of “overpriced and overrated “development aids” that appeal more to your emotions than to your child’s.”

Kutner makes light of the “ludicrous claims made by people who take parents’ money under the pretense of turning their babies into geniuses.”

Some ludicrous claims from Vtech's V Smile

But the subject is a serious one. Why do parents want to give their babies a headstart against others?

Strangelove argues that the competitive and ordered society we live in motivates these parents to one-up others so that their children can get the best jobs possible.

But I would add a few things to this line of reasoning.

Videogames, electronic toys, and TV shows for infants are the new babysitter. When parents don’t have enough time to pay attention to their children but don’t feel bad sitting them in front of a screen because some company says it will be good for them we are breaching dangerous ground.

These products make a parent’s job easier. When a parent uses these products, they are reinforcing the power of the screen over their child’s life rather than spending time with their children, showing them affection, and holding and caring for them.

Isn’t anyone concerned that the screen might have the opposite of the intended effect? The last time I checked the best way to ensure your child will be socially adept was to hold it, pay attention to it, and genuinely care for it.

Karen Schmidt and Jeffrey Cohn found that the more a mother and infant shared positive responses with one another, the better that child would be at social interaction later in life (p. 12). Ignoring one’s child or depriving them of human interaction has negative consequences for social development.

Instead of creating super babies, we are creating screen-hungry consumers and more time for parents to spend on their blackberries.



Kutner, Lawrence. The Superbaby Syndrome. Retrieved Jan. 26 from:

Karen Schmidt and Jeffrey Cohn. (2001). Human Facial Expressions as Adaptations: Evolutionary Questions in Facial Expression Research. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology. Vol 44:3-24.

Published in: on January 27, 2009 at 4:01 pm  Comments (2)