As soon as I read the headline, I grabbed the phone and called F at work.
“So do you feel vindicated now?” I asked, laughing.
F was adamant that the baby not watch TV. So he would turn the child’s head, shield his face, or swoop him out of the room entirely if the action onscreen captured his attention. I would just laugh or roll my eyes – it wasn’t like we plopped the kid in front of the boob tube all day long, after all – but F was unwavering in his stance.
And now here was the high holy court of the American Academy of Pediatrics, coming down on the side of my paranoid spouse.
No TV, the experts insist. Not one minute for the under-two crowd. Not even a grown-up show in the background while the parent plays with the child. Even the slightest background exposure impacts babies’ sensitive, growing brains.
But what struck me most about the article was this line:
The new academy recommendation toughens up some of the most-ignored medical guidance in the nation.
An estimated 90% of parents let their kids younger than 2 watch television (an average of 1-2 hours daily), even though presumably a good number of them have heard the AAP’s strict prohibition. And at first I was alarmed by this: why are so many parents disregarding scientifically-backed advice? Why is it ok to ignore this guideline but not others?
But then I made a correlation. What person of faith doesn’t know that they’re supposed to pray? A lot. Every day. Without ceasing, even. And yet I’d be willing to bet that about the same amount of us – 90% or so – don’t. We may want to, we may try to. But life intervenes, we forget, we fail.
So what’s the solution? Do we berate parents for exposing their children’s impressionable minds to TV? Do we guilt people from the pulpit for not praying enough?
I don’t think so. I think you first have to ask why people do what they do.
As the article points out, parents let their babies and toddlers watch TV for a number of reasons. They need to keep them occupied while they make dinner. They think it’s educational. They want to make their children happy. They just need a few minutes of peace and quiet after a long and crazy day. Or they just don’t know it might be harmful.
Likewise, why don’t most of us devote more time to prayer? We’re tired. We’re distracted. We’re busy. We don’t feel think we know how. Or we just don’t think it’s that important.
I believe that, in most cases, you have to give people the benefit of the doubt. And then with respect and compassion, invite them to consider another way. Like all the things our kids can do instead of watching TV. Or simple steps to weave prayer into our daily lives.
People don’t need more guilt. And adults don’t need to be chastised. But we all need encouragement and gentle reminders, even to follow advice that we know is good for us.
And the one we claim to follow was pretty good at this himself, it seems.