Mugging it up for baby - just pop in the videotape

August 24, 1994|By S. L. Wykes | S. L. Wykes,Knight-Ridder News Service

It's the end of a long day -- dinner's not ready, the laundry's not folded, the floor a minefield of toys. Your baby is not amused with your antics, and Barney just isn't cutting it anymore.

Now might be the time for "Babymugs," an instant play-group-in-a-video that banks on babies' fascination with faces, especially those of other children. It's a fascination that marks the developmental stage small humans reach at 3 months of age.

"Babymugs" is the first creation of Three Friends Productions -- three, thirtysomething first-time mothers at home in San Carlos, Calif., wondering how to keep their professional skills alive while nurturing their children. They watched their infants become fascinated with each other and their reflections in mirrors and the idea for the video hit them.

While the concept may turn out to be this year's best seller, some child care experts warn that the tape should not be a substitute for parental attention. They caution it could be detrimental if used to excess, as could any video or TV program.

Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a nationally known pediatrician whose books and TV series have helped make him a child-raising guru to millions of parents, says he found the idea of "Babymugs" disturbing. "I'm not at all for media substituting for interrelationships," Dr. Brazelton says.

The mothers aren't surprised by such criticism -- in fact, they had a similar reaction when they came up with the idea. Even they would warn parents not to rely on the video as a substitute for their presence.

Lisa Kirkpatrick, Linda Warwick and Shelley Frost also don't want their tape used as a baby-sitter. The moms say they just want to give parents another tool for entertaining, stimulating and soothing their children when nothing else works and they're at their wits' end.

Also, they say, the video should be used only in small doses. "Don't expect your kid to sit there for 30 minutes absolutely engaged," says Ms. Kirkpatrick, who taught fifth-graders at Palo Alto's Escondido School before she left on maternity leave. "I hope parents would use their judgment."

The video, aimed at babies 3 months and up, is 30 minutes long and will contain the images of almost 80 babies.

The babies' mugs run the gamut of emotions, except for one: No crying will be allowed on the tape. To stimulate any feelings of unhappiness "is the last thing we would want to do," says Ms. Frost, Three Friends' marketing director. The babies also will reflect ethnic diversity. The video will have a musical background with a variety of beats.

"Babymugs" got off the ground a month and a half ago, and is being produced on a shoestring $6,000 budget. To help with the project, Three Friends consulted an advisory board that includes Dr. Richard Bland, Ms. Kirkpatrick's father, former professor of pediatrics at University of California-San Francisco Medical School, and Dr. Brian Goldfine, a family practice physician who specializes in infant care.

Dr. Goldfine says he agreed to serve on the board because he likes the video idea. "Starting at around 3 months of age, babies enter a developmental stage where they are fixated on faces and facial expressions," he says. "They are trying to familiarize themselves with other humans. . . . It's bonding and sharing and the beginning of everything."

On a rainy day, Dr. Goldfine says, a parent could pop in the video and share its new experiences with a child. "Used properly," he says, "there would be no side effects."

Ms. Bland is convinced parents can use the video to help infants express themselves in an uninhibited fashion.

Ms. Frost's husband is anti-television and she worried about the effect such a video might have on their child. But she also noticed her son loved to sit and watch the world go by and he adored watching other children.

"I think it would be fun to watch [the video] with him," Ms. Frost says. "All we want to do is make children feel better about themselves and about others as well."

"Babymugs," priced at $14.95, should be ready for retail marketing in October.

For more information, call Three Friends at (800) 772-MUGS.

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