If you listen to the American Academy of Pediatrics (motto: instilling feelings of inadequacy in parents since 1930), exposing children to television and other screen time during the first two years of life is the leading cause of bed-wetting, socialism, and letting the terrorists win. In the ideal world in which these pediatricians live, the au pair knows that she will be locked back in the dungeon if she lets little Huntington Von Blueblood IV have an inkling that televisions, computers, ipads, and smart phones even exist. But for the rest of us, saying that there should be NO television whatsoever for the first two years of life kind of misses the mark.
Rather than feel guilty for wanting to watch the game while taking care of Junior (remember: it will only scar him for life if it’s a Cubs game), you should realize that this particular pronouncement on the part of the AAP is not nearly as life-or-death as they’d like you to believe. Here are the valid(ish) reasons for why baby shouldn’t watch television, and the real-world factors that the AAP seems to be ignoring:
1. Time watching television is time baby is not doing creative play. This deserves a big, fat “So what?” Time watching television is also time that baby is not performing neurosurgery, and you don’t see anyone having a freak out about that. No one is suggesting that watching television is a creative endeavor, least of all the harried and stinky parents who can’t figure out any other way to take an uninterrupted shower. Baby can work on creating a full-scale model of the Eiffel Tower out of popsicle sticks after she’s finished watching Barney and you have finally showered away the week-old Cheeze Curlz from your hair and are able to supervise her use of the hot glue gun.
The truth is that while babies certainly need creative playtime, Mom and Dad also need some time to themselves. A 20-minute baby-appropriate program will not eat into the lifetime of creative play available to your child.
2. Television is hypnotizing and addictive. Yes, settling baby in front of the television is just like giving her an IV drip of heroin. It’s not like you have any control over when the TV goes on and off. And for that matter, as far as I know, there is no 12-step program for adults to extricate themselves from the addictive sway of the boob tube. (“Hi, my name is Huntington, and I’m a television addict.”)
It’s true that babies can be entranced and even “hypnotized” by the pretty, flickering screen. But that is why television is such an important tool! You can turn on the hypnotizer and actually do something other than play Peek-a-Boo or don’t-touch-that-you’ll-electrocute/cut/burn-yourself for a little while. I’m not seeing the downside here.
3. Reading is more valuable than television time. Let’s say it all together: “Duh!” Not even the laziest English 101 student would claim that watching the movie version is more valuable than reading the book. Does the AAP really believe that parents are thinking that television is a reasonable substitute for reading to kids? If such parents exist, I can’t decide if they are the lazy English 101 students all grown up, or if they have just managed to avoid the Parenthood-Industrial Paranoia complex. Either way, I envy them.
If you’re deep in the grip of that Paranoia complex and it’ll make you feel better, read to baby after you turn off the TV. It’ll give him a head start on being able to say, “Oh, the book was so much better!”
4. Television can become a babysitter. This is one of parenthood’s best-kept secrets. TV makes for a great babysitter! At today’s childcare prices, it’ll be the cheapest babysitter you can find—and it won’t eat all your chips and ice cream sandwiches, to boot.
Look, using the television as babysitter only happens if you let it. And there is a measure of difference between using a short program every once in a while (even daily, gasp!) to buy yourself a little time and parking the child in front of a television with a cooler full of prepared bottles and heading out for the evening. Which, as far as I understand it, is the generally accepted definition for a babysitter.
5. TV is violent and doesn’t teach your child anything. This is only true if it’s something really worth watching. Generally, shows marketed to the under two-foot-tall set do not fit this bill. While your 7-month-old is probably too young for the violence of the Saturday morning cartoon line up, let alone the shows that you’d prefer to be watching, remember that TV executives know there are babies watching and several channels offer programs geared to your child’s age and abilities. These programs are almost entirely educational in nature, giving your baby a chance to learn letters, numbers, shapes, colors, and music. If Game of Thrones were that educational for adults, your IQ would go up once a week.
There are many reasons why I may feel like a bad mother on any given day. But letting my sons watch television is not one of them. Just because they have an easier time identifying the most obscure of the Octonauts than their out of town cousins does not mean that he’ll be stunted for life. The AAP’s recommendation allows for no nuance or gray areas or sanity savers. In trying to combat parents who do use the television inappropriately, pediatricians have made all of us feel guilty.