Screw You, American Academy of Pediatrics! 5 Reasons TV is our BFF

If there’s one thing I heard absolutely everywhere when my kids were born, it’s that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a very strict policy when it comes to TV:

No TV under age 2, ever.

Well, now that my kids are 2 1/2 years old, I’ve come up with a reasoned and measured counterpoint:

GO SCREW YOURSELF, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS!

I spent two years feeling guilty and ashamed that I caved into the alluring glow of the magic box in the living room, but I’m here to tell you from the other side: my kids are FINE.  They’re not drooly, brain-dead hyperpunks – well, not most of the time, at least.  They are 2, after all.

I’m clearly not the first person to express this kind of sentiment, because just last year, the AAP softened its recommended policy on TV usage.  The new mandate:

No TV under age 2, please.

In that spirit, I’d like to soften my counterpoint:

Go screw yourself, American Academy of Pediatrics, please!

Really?  Is that the best advice you can offer parents?  An abstinence-only policy?  How about we try to be realistic instead?  TV shouldn’t be a substitute for parenting, but there’s no reason it can’t be a small part of a healthy parenting regimen.  Let’s focus on responsible TV usage.

Sure, there are miserable parents out there who leave their TV on 24 hours a day, but those people aren’t listening to the AAP, and they certainly aren’t reading parenting blogs.

This advice is for the rest of you.  Here, in my opinion, are 5 perfectly acceptable uses for TV before your kid turns 2.

1. TV as distraction – I can hear the TV haters now.  “A-ha!  That’s all TV is!  A distraction!”  Well, yeah!  And if you’re a stay-home parent, you need distractions.  Maybe you have to call the pediatrician for 5 minutes, or you want to cook some mac and cheese without the kids knocking the pot of boiling water off the stove.  Oh, let’s just be honest: this is about what to do when you need to poop.  Everyone poops, right?  You know that because you read to your kids as well, like all good parents do.  So if you have to step out of the room for a minute, there’s no better way to distract your young’uns than with TV.  If it’s only for a small chunk of time, it’s not going to hurt them, at least not nearly as much as pulling that pot of water off the stove would.

2. TV as triage – Pop quiz, hot shot: your baby wakes up in the middle of the night screaming her head off.  She won’t eat, won’t burp, won’t go back to sleep.  None of your go-to methods for calming her are any help.  Is it time to rush her to the ER or page the on-call doctor?  Not so fast!  There’s one fool-proof diagnostic you can try first.  His name is Elmo.

We did it all the time with my kids.  Just when we were convinced we were witnessing a baby appendix in mid-burst, we turned on the TV.  If the kid calmed down immediately (as they always did) then clearly this was something they’d be able to ride out.

Face it: New parents are terrible doctors, and babies are terrible patients.  Sometimes, it’s hard to tell who’s crying harder when something goes wrong.  If a few minutes of TV can defuse the situation before you wake your pediatrician up in a panic, I think that’s something even the AAP would sign off on.

3. TV as a coffee break – What kind of horrible boss doesn’t let you take a coffee break now and then?  Well, guess what?  As a stay-home parent, you’re the boss.  Don’t be a slave-driver.  When your hard-working employee’s frazzled and needs to decompress, pop in a DVD for 10 or 15 minutes.  It not only gives you a chance to catch your breath, but it can calm your kids down, too, so when it’s time to turn it off, everyone feels refreshed.

Of course, as with any coffee breaks, you have to be careful not to abuse the system.  If you show a 1-year-old the Little Mermaid in its entirety while you let Calgon take you away, then she’s going to get bored and cranky, and you’ve just blown the benefits of your coffee break.  For a long time, our TV limit was 15 minutes a week.  Yes, a week.  It may not seem like much, but you wouldn’t believe how much I looked forward to those 15 minutes and how much I appreciated them when they were done.

4. TV as teacher – Let’s assume you’re not a total loser and you actually read to your kids.  Good for you.  But do you have any Harvard PhDs consulting on your selection of material?  No?  Then why not give the Children’s Television Workshop a crack at your little ones, too?  I’m not saying TV can ever match the value of parental interaction you get from reading, but the right shows can reinforce the things you’re teaching them when you’re going through your favorite books.  And let’s face it, Mom and Dad, you don’t exactly have the production values of The Fresh Beat Band.

I drummed the ABCs into my kids for weeks, with mixed results at best.  But after just a few viewings of a DVD called “The Letter Factory“*,  my kids knew all their letters and the sounds they made.

I’m not suggesting that SpongeBob Squarepants is on par with Jaime Escalante, and I’d never say that TV is the best way for your kids to learn.  But just because you do turn it on occasionally, it doesn’t mean you’re making your kids into couch potatoes.  Encourage them to sing the songs, to repeat Dora’s Spanish back to the screen, and at the very least, to get up and dance when music is playing.

TV is only a passive experience if you let it be.  Anyone who still calls it the “idiot box” hasn’t been paying attention.

* I never accept any endorsements on this blog and I have nothing to do with this company.  But as a parent, I wholeheartedly recommend this DVD.  It really did wonders for my kids.

5. TV as incentive/threat – You nurture your kids, you feed them, you tell them all the time how much you love them.  And in the end, they still like Elmo better than you.  Them’s the breaks.  But you can use that to your advantage.  Nothing snapped my kids in line faster than telling them, “Well, we were going to watch TV after dinner, but now maybe we won’t.”  Yes, it’s petty and it’s probably terrible parenting for a thousand different reasons.  But it works.  And sometimes, you just need what works.

How does Lex Luthor get the best of Superman?  By exploiting his weaknesses.  (He cares about regular mortals.  He wants to hide his identity., etc.) Well, your kids have their own forms of kryptonite – puppetry, repetitive jingles and the warm, welcoming glow of an LCD screen.

If you deny your kids TV, you’re denying them a major weakness and thus a major opportunity for you to get what you need out of them.  You won’t get a rat through a maze if he’s never tasted cheese.  I’m not saying you let him gorge himself.  Just a nibble now and then is more than enough.

There it is.  My case for responsible TV usage.  Or maybe it’s my defense of my own TV usage when my kids were little.  I did it.  I defied the AAP.  I stand by my actions and still consider myself a good parent.

I know the AAP is an organization of highly trained professionals who’ve dedicated their lives to helping children grow and thrive, whereas I’m just a guy with limited parenting experience and a WordPress account.  Decide for yourself who you’d prefer to listen to.  My mission is not to tell you what to do with your kids.  But I want you to know that if you do let them watch TV before they’re 2, you’re not alone – and you’re not a bad parent.

Necessarily.

Confessions of a Bad Dad: 10 Reasons We Love McDonald’s

People say the nicest things in my comments section:

“You’re such a great parent!”

“Your kids are so lucky!”

“Will you have babies with me?”

I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist.  Just pure, sweet, huggy affection.  When I read my blog comments, I’m filled with warmth, joy and hope for the future.

Then I kick back and go, “Hahaha, suckers!”

The truth is, I have you all fooled.  Sure, I sound like an amazing dad in these blog posts.  But guess who writes these blog posts?  Yup, that’s right…

This guy!  

Well, I gave that guy the day off.  Today you’ll get to meet the other me, the one my kids know very well but the rest of the world rarely gets to see…

Jerry the Bad Dad.

(Cue the sleazy 70s funk music.)

Jerry the Bad Dad doesn’t make “wise choices” for his children.

He doesn’t listen to Dr. Spock or the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Hmph!

Jerry the Bad Dad makes his own rules.  He goes rogue.  He makes mistakes… but not apologies.

Jerry the Bad Dad… you so BAAAAAAD!

Just how bad is Jerry the Bad Dad?  Well, get this:

I take my kids to McDonald’s!

Yes, that place!

(Record scratch, screams of horror and disgust.)

That’s right.  My two-year-olds are no strangers to the sweet, salty seduction of McFood.  I can feel you judging me already, but it’s worse than you think.  We’re regulars there.  We go once a week.  They know us there.

McDonald’s is our Cheers.

If you’re not already rolling over in disgust or calling Child Protective Services on me, then allow me to tell you why.

I have some very BAAAAAAAD reasons!

1. My kids are always the best behaved children there.  You want to feel good about your kids?  Take them to McDonald’s.  Have you seen some of the riff-raff toddling around that joint?  Yeesh, instead of booths, they should have cages.  There’s a reason they don’t give out nunchucks in Happy Meals – those little monsters would use them.

Sure, I’d love to take my kids to The Four Seasons, but there, the clientele tends to frown upon customers screeching out “Movin’ Right Along” at the top of their lungs while shoving Dora fruit snacks up their nose.  At McDonald’s, as long as your little ones aren’t running around knifing cashiers, everyone’s coming up to you for parenting tips.

Winning.

2. The meal comes with its own entertainment.  There’s a reason my diaper bag weighs 200 pounds.  It’s because every time we go out, I bring half the contents of our toy chest in hopes of keeping the kids happy for the duration of dinner.  At McDonald’s, I don’t need any of that stuff, because the kids get a brand new toy with their happy meal.  Yes, it’s always some piece of junk tied into a lame kids’ movie and it breaks as soon as we get home, but so what?  It kept them busy while Daddy ate his McSalad, so it served its purpose.

3. It kills time.  I’m sure I don’t have to explain this one to other stay-home parents, but sometimes the biggest challenge every day is just finding activities to keep the kids occupied.  I’ll come up with a brilliant idea like hide and seek, and they’ll get bored with it in two minutes.  You ever tried playing hide and seek with kids who refuse to hide or seek?  It gets old fast.

That’s why I love eating out.  Dinner at home might take twenty minutes, but a trip to McDonald’s, including putting coats on, loading them in the car, driving there and back, ordering and actually eating the food, can last a blissful hour and a half.  We don’t even go to a McDonald’s with a play area.  If we did that, they might stay all afternoon.

4. The zit-faced 16-year-old slaving over the grill for minimum wage is a better cook than me.  I don’t know his secret, but his Angus Third Pounders are always fried, flipped and oversalted to perfection.  McDonald’s is a welcome break for our whole family – for me not to have to cook… and for the kids not to have to eat my cooking.  So whoever that is in the hairnet behind the electronic order screen, my compliments to you, young chef!  And the red-haired clown out front, too.

5. It’s an excuse for me to eat McDonald’s.  Seriously, have you tried those Angus Third Pounders?  Damn, that’s the sweet stuff!

6. It’s cheap(ish).  Have you been to one of those chain restaurants lately, like Uno’s or T.G.I. Fridays?  These days, they all advertise on their kids menu that they use Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  Well, guess what?  I know what Kraft Macaroni & Cheese costs, and it ain’t $6 a serving.  Sure, McDonald’s marks up their prices, too, but at least they don’t shove it in my face and make me feel like a moron.  My whole family of four eats there for under $20, and I don’t end up giving my kids something I could – and do – give them at home for $1.29 a box.

7. It’s low maintenance food.  It’s a tenet of dining out that the price of the food is directly related to how cold it’ll get before the parents get a chance to eat it.  Take your kids to a steakhouse and you’ll spend half an hour carving their filet into pebble-sized portions they’re actually capable of digesting.  Then comes the convincing.  “C’mon, it tastes like a hamburger!”  You know how to solve that problem?  Just get them a damn hamburger in the first place.  Done.

At McDonald’s, the kids recognize everything on the menu, and all of it is bite-sized.  I don’t have to cut, coax or cajole.  All I have to do is open the happy meal box and let them go to town.  I may not get to eat prime rib myself, but at least I’ll enjoy my McChicken before its core temperature registers on the Kelvin scale.

8. They eat a full meal there.  I often wonder why the kids don’t finish the meals I make them at home.  Were they just not hungry?  Or did my turkey meatballs suck?

At McDonald’s, I know they’re eating as much as they want.  They usually finish everything, but if there is food left over, it’s not because they didn’t like it.  Sure, the food is garbage, but honestly…

9. The food’s not much worse than what I serve at home.  I know that what McDonald’s scrapes off the slaughterhouse floor to put in their burgers isn’t exactly Kobe beef, but then again, what’s in those hot dogs I buy at the supermarket?  Are the chicken nuggets we heat in the microwave so much more full of vitamins and minerals than McNuggets?

Fair enough.  When I’m at home, I can at least try to make things nutritious.  Even Jerry the Bad Dad always puts a fruit and a vegetable on the high chair trays, and he does buy organic (well, you know, sometimes maybe he does).  Overall, my kids are better off eating my dinners than a fast food dinner.  But that’s why we don’t eat McDonald’s every day.

Which brings me to my final point…

10. McDonald’s teaches my kids the value of moderation.  It’s not like I tell my kids that McDonald’s is healthy food.  But by limiting the number of times we go there, I’m letting them know it’s a special treat we can’t have too often.  Only by going to McDonald’s can my kids appreciate the value of not going to McDonald’s, which, after all, is what we do most of the time.

They rarely ask for it anymore, and when they do, I just remind them that fast food is OK once in a while, but we can’t eat it every day.  It’s a special treat that we can only have when Daddy says so… just like TV.

Oh yeah, TV.  I know the doctors all say that kids who are exposed to even five minutes of TV before they turn 2 will instantly morph into raging chain-tantruming paste eaters with droopy eyelids, but… well… you see…

Eh, I’ll save that for another post.