Back when we were pregnant and studying fervently for our advanced degrees in parenting, we came across this article which suggested that children under the age of two should not be allowed to watch any television, none at all.
Their theory was that the electronic medium of television alters the tender brain chemistry of toddlers and could play a role in some of the sensory issues that beset our children today, issues that we haven’t seen so much in previous generations. That seemed like a reasonable hypothesis to us and so we went with it and it has served us well.
Not only do we think this policy has benefited Sean’s ability to focus and recall, but until he started public school, he had no idea what Transformers were or who Sponge Bob is. And that, no doubt, has saved us a few bucks.
Surprisingly, we got a lot of push back on our no-TV stance from well-intended folks who couldn’t believe that we would deny Sean his right to Elmo.
“But Sesame Street is a good program,” they’d say mournfully as though we were withholding milk, “They can learn so much!”
Whether or not Sesame Street and Barney and the others are good or bad or somewhere in between is debatable. But this is not about the message. It’s about the medium. Big Bird is not the issue. The issue is the unrelenting barrage of imagery and noise that is television that screws with the brains of babies.
When we tried to explain this, that we were not Big Bird haters, the response was “But there are a lot of good shows for kids on television! They can learn to count!” And I had to assume their inability to form a logical counter argument was that they watched television before they were two. And I rest my case.
When Sean was about four, we relaxed our stance on television a little bit, but not much. Now that he is older, our concern about the electronic nature of the medium has declined an itsy bitsy bit, but our concern over the message has increased exponentially. We go to a lot of trouble to monitor and limit what he watches, but still, the crud creeps in, and boy is it sticky stuff.
Well, last week, we had the flu at our house and our highfalutin’ stance on television went right out the window. (And yesterday my stance on never wearing my PJs and robe to drive Sean to school also went out the window. I can no longer sneer at those robe-wearers. This flu has been rough on us.)
Sean came home from school sick with the flu on Friday, about 10 days ago. He was sick on the couch until the next Thursday and then I was sick on the couch Thursday through the weekend and then AD took his turn on the couch. Sean watched television the whole time he was sick and then whole time I was sick. We have watched more television in the past 10 days than we have in the past seven years. He was still only allowed to watch movies and Animal Planet and Discovery and Myth Busters and Word Girl and his usual mild semi-educational fare, definitely not any network crud, but still – a lot of television.
And at one point, I noticed I was developing some seriously sour feelings towards Flo, the Progressive chick and the State Farm guy with the weird forehead and thinking how ugly and annoying their kid would be. It was about this time that Sean called to me from the sofa.
“Mom, can you come over here?”
I leaned over the sofa to feel his forehead. Was he feeling worse?
He looks up at me and tenderly reaches for my face.
“Mom,” he says, “ProActive could get rid of those red spots you have on your chin.”
“It renews, revitalizes and repairs in just three easy steps. You can order it on TV.”
“It works in as little as three days. Katy Perry uses it.”
“Who’s Katy Perry?” I ask.
“I don’t know. But you can get your money back if you’re not completely satisfied.”
I think they need to emend that study to report that not only does TV alter brain chemistry in children, but there is also the real danger that your kid will turn into Billy Mays in just 10 short days.
I guarantee it or your money back.