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.