Three-month-olds can’t read. It’s true! So stop feeling like you’re raising the next generation’s slackers when you see the commercials for “Your Baby Can Read,” a $200 multi-media program of flashcards with pictures, books and DVDs.
If you’ve ever seen the ads, you know that they work hard to be convincing. They start with preschool-aged kids sounding out words (hey, you’ve seen a live kid do that before!), then they show snacking toddlers reading from flashcards between cracker-bites (“Hmmm,” you tell yourself. “I guess it’s possible if I actually attempted to teach my child something.”). Finally, there’s a little, little baby, barely able to sit up on her own and idly pointing at her bellybutton. Then you notice Dad. He’s holding up a flashcard that says “bellybutton.”
Damn, that baby can read!
No, no, no, she can’t. The company that claims she can? Well, unless they can prove those babies are reading, they’ll have to stop running the ads.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the same group that brought down the Baby Einstein franchise, is now going after Titzer and his company. They’ve filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, claiming that the “Your Child Can Read Program” makes false and deceptive claims about child literacy.
CFCC also accuses the group of making deceptive claims and for targeting their ads to people of disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, where $200 represents a huge financial sacrifice.
At best, experts contacted by the CFCC say “Your Child Can Read” is a program of memorization, but that there is no evidence of reading going on or evidence that babies in the program become better readers in the future.
Among the claims made in the commercials and on the packaging that CFCC calls deceptive, I think the worst is the one that claims if your kid isn’t reading by age 5, the window of opportunity to learn closes. Here’s what the CFCC writes at their website:
The Claim: Your Baby Can Read teaches babies to read during a “short window of opportunity.” “A baby’s brain thrives on stimulation and develops at a phenomenal pace…nearly 90% during the first five years of life! Seize this opportunity before it closes!”
The Facts: There is no basis for claiming YBCR takes advantage of a “short window of opportunity” for reading. It is true that biologists have identified certain times when infants and children are more receptive to learning certain behaviors, such as language acquisition. However, a “window” for reading does not snap shut at age 5.
I can imagine a not very well-educated parent whose kids are destined to attend bad schools might respond to that by calling in their order.
What’s worse is that if instructions are followed, the program encourage parents to put children as young as three months old in front of the TV for more than 200 hours between the ages of 3 and 9 months.
Incidentally, the bellybutton baby mentioned earlier is the daughter of Dr. Robert Titzer, the man who developed and markets the “Your Baby Can Read” product. This guy has made millions from families who respond to the commercial’s underlying premise, which is: babies can read if you’d just figure out how to help them.
The Today Show has been looking into “Your Baby Can Read” claims and the complaint filed with the FTC. They interviewed Dr. Titzer, who stands by his program. He claims to have a large stack of research backing up their claims. But when the Today Show asked to see it, he turned over stacks of customer feedback surveys.
Most laughable is that Titzer claimed that, at 4 years old, his own daughters could read better than him, an adult, PhD who taught college for a living.
Here’s the Today Show video, followed by the whole 2-minute commercial: