14 November 2011

Nice Parenting

The age of TV and junk food has begun.

We don’t really have anyone to blame for this but ourselves. The wife and I like TV. We like junk food. It’s only natural that we’d allow these things to slip into the Doozer’s life.

Of course, it was just Halloween. And only the second time in the Doozer’s young life that he’s gone trick-or-treating. Perhaps the first time he really knew what was happening. And that encyclopedic brain of his, the one that memorizes lengthy dinosaur names and entire plotlines of Dora the Explorer and every word in a favorite Arthur book, it kicked into overdrive and from the moment we got home, he had the entire contents of his pumpkin bucket memorized.

There was no way he was forgetting a single piece of candy he acquired. Nor was he going to let us forget what they were. I hope that these frightening powers of recall are someday put to good use, like in the service of learning and studying and taking tests, but something tells me I shouldn’t get my hopes up too high.

Sure, we’ve doled it out. Little by little. We didn’t allow him an orgiastic devouring of sugar the first night, the next night. Or at all. One piece at a time. Usually only one piece a day. But still, he acquired a taste for it like a smackhead fiending for his next hit. The kid that devoured every kind of fruit and vegetable imaginable started pushing around the food on his dinner plate and saying, “Dada. I’m hungry for candy corns.”

What have we done?

It’s not just junk food, but the junk of televised entertainment we’ve exposed him to. Speaking personally, I’m a hopeless TV addict and while my wife hasn’t fully succumbed to my level of abasement, it’s a slippery slope, and she readily admits she watches far more television since she’s been with me than she ever did before. Actually, blames me is probably a far more accurate statement than admits to.

And just like the candy, we’ve done our best to dole out television in moderation. It’s not on constantly in the background, he doesn’t veg out in front of the tube for hours at a time, like a miniature zombie. There is some regulation, there is some monitoring. The core of his programming comes from Nick Jr. and PBS. But we recently allowed him to start watching a Saturday morning cartoon on a regular network (Busytown Mysteries, based on the books of Richard Scarry—don’t get me started on how bizarre it is to interpret this author’s work as a series of kid-friendly procedurals each week). Not to mention the annual holiday specials that we so prized in our own youth (and still in adulthood), like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. But you know what you get with network programming, that you don’t encounter on PBS or even Nick Jr.?


And there it is. That’s the junk. It’s not the shows themselves, which tend to range from fairly harmless to mildly educational. It’s the gooey filling in between. Toys and candy and sugar cereals and junk. Sure, you can try to be vigilant, leave your hand hovering over the remote control so you can fast-forward through those commercials as soon as they appear. But you’re not always that fast and sometimes you do just have to leave the room.

And the result is your kid asking endless questions about something called Dr. Zombie’s Laboratory. What is it? What does he make there? Plus, the regular, instant recognition of a ridiculously overpriced, dancing and singing monstrosity called Rock Star Mickey. Which he spots from a hundred yards away the moment you enter the toy store.

(Yes, we took him to a toy store. I know. We’re hopeless.)

And so it begins. Our son, at only three, is now enveloped by a media-saturated world, another hopeless drone in our consumerist culture. We’re doomed.

I think we’ll read The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food tonight. And tomorrow night. And the next. Until the message sinks in. And if all else fails, we'll be feigning ignorance (and innocence) when the rest of the Halloween candy vanishes into thin air.

It has to be done.

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