17 February 2011

Idiot Box

"Pediatricians should urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of 2 years . . . exposing such young children to television programs should be discouraged."
—American Academy of Pediatrics

OTIS: I watch TV with a critical eye. If I get truly sucked in, I know it's time to change the channel.

MAX: Is it abbreviated? Is it plural? These are the questions I have to ask myself. Your attention span is, like, one- quarter of a music video.

OTIS: There are many dull parts in the videos.
Kicking and Screaming, Noah Baumbach (1995)

This first quote is from a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization that seems pretty official and which I have no reason to doubt. The second is from one of my favorite flicks and represents an argument between Max and Otis, in which Max chastises Otis for watching too much TV and not engaging in more brain-stimulating activities, like doing the crossword puzzle. To me, they represent different viewpoints on watching TV. And I bring them up in relation to a pretty major event in our house this week.

The Grumpy Old Troll got married.

Yes, Nick Jr. aired a very special episode of Dora the Explorer for Valentine's Day, following the misadventures of everybody's favorite yellow-haired, under-the-bridge dweller, on the day of his nuptials to Petunia (who may or may not have been a troll herself, this was never quite specified). It's kind of ridiculous and sad how momentous this occasion was in our household, how the Doozer's parents were looking forward to it almost as much as he was.

I must admit, we did allow our son to start watching TV some time before his second birthday. And his viewing has continued pretty much unabated ever since.

But I don't think it's bad thing. Necessarily. At least, not until I read things like the quote above, or hear about other parents who don't allow their kids to watch as much TV as we allow the Doozer to watch. The thing is, so far, it doesn't seem to be negatively impacting him. All that rotting your brain and stunting your development stuff, I haven't seen it.

(And hopefully won't.)

For the Doozer, watching TV is an interactive experience. Not like with us lazy, stupefied adults, who loll on the sofa, zoning out to Grey's Anatomy or the Cooking Channel. It's both interactive and active. He gets up and dances during songs. Because of Dora the Explorer, he's learned some Spanish words and even numbers. (He particularly likes to say, "Ocho.") He answers questions posed by the characters onscreen. I swear, sometimes it seems like Map and Backpack are far better at eliciting responses from him than the wife and me.

He's been exposed to letters, numbers, words, music. He's learned about feelings, emotions, colors, challenges.

And just like Otis, the Doozer watches with a critical eye. If a particular segment of Sesame Street does not hold his interest, he will play with some Duplo blocks or even pick up a book.

Yes, this happened. He once picked up a book during a TV show and asked me to read it to him. Suck it, pediatricians!

Maybe I'm creating an elaborate, selective defense of letting my son watch television (perhaps I really do care what all those pediatricians think). But I do think it often has the opposite effect of the one we grew up hearing about, or that seems to be a major concern. That it will make him dumb, live up to its nickname as the Idiot Box. But for now, he seems engaged, he interacts with shows, he doesn't just sit there slack-jawed and drooling, zombie-style, having his brain turned irrevocably to useless mush.

Obviously, it's good to have guidelines. It's good to follow rules. Nobody believes this more than me. Trust me. But the thing you learn about parenting is that, more than anything, it's fluid. Constantly evolving. The experience can't be put into any sort of box, or governed completely by a set of rules put forth by experts. Only you are an expert in your own kid. And most days, even you aren't that much of an expert.

I don't know. I don't have all the answers. I'm not sure I have even some of the answers. But I like TV. Okay, I like TV a lot. And though Dora the Explorer is no Mad Men or Modern Family, I'll take it. I'll gladly sit beside the Doozer on our couch and watch together. Because we're starting to share a common interest here. Sure, it could be viewed as my vain attempt to shape my son in my own image, to create a miniature TV acolyte, a fellow Idiot Box devotee.

Scratch that. We're bonding. That's right. Bonding. That's my story.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to dance along to the "We Did It" song with Dora and her pals.

When did this become my life exactly . . . ?

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