Fine is not good enough

My wife and I are attempting to keep our daughter away from television until the age of two, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and based upon a great body of research that seems to indicate that television before this age can negatively impact cognitive development.

And I don’t think we’re overly cautious or overprotective parents. We allow Clara to cry herself to sleep each night, have left her with babysitters, and rarely call the doctor with concerns.

But too much research indicates that television before the age of two is bad, and we’ve decided to buy into it.

And according to both of our babysitters, Clara loves books and is more attentive to them than any other baby they know. Perhaps the absence of television in her life has contributed to this.

Or maybe she’s just a genius.

Either way, Clara is just over a year old and is already is fascinated by television (and screens in general). She loves to sit on my lap and watch me write, and if a television is on in another room or in a restaurant, she will crane her head to catch a glimpse of it. Thankfully, my wife and I don’t watch a lot of TV, so keeping her away from it is relatively simple. 

Yesterday morning my wife was watching the news and I was playing with Clara on the bed, using my body to block her view of the screen. After a moment, I noticed that she was staring out the window. “How sweet,” I thought. “She must be looking at the birds.”

Then I noticed the reflection of the TV screen in the window and realized what was going on.

Clever girl.

Of course, television viewing before the age of two was exceptionally common when I grew up, and dare I say that it is still quite common today. As a result, many people say things like, “I watched television when I was a kid and I turned out fine” or “My son started watching Sesame Street when he was nine months old and he’s at the top of his class.”

While all this might be true, I find these arguments ridiculous because there is no way to measure lost potential.

I grew up in a home without many books, and I have no recollection of my mother or father ever reading to me or encouraging me to read. We owned half a set of Funk and Wagnall’s encyclopedias, and by the time I was about eight years old, I had begun to read them, desperate for any kind of book at all. We had a television in our bedroom and a healthy supply of video games, and my fondest memories of my mother are the times when we would sit down and play the Atari 5200 together. My childhood was spent with video games, TV and the outdoors.  Books never even played a significant role in my life until I was about twelve years old and found the public library on my own.

Not once in my entire life did my parents help or even ask about my homework.

Yet today I am a successful teacher, small business owner, and published novelist with a second book on the way and a third in the works. I hold four degrees from four different colleges including a Master’s in educational technology, and I graduated at the top of my class each time. I might be in the position to argue that all this talk about the importance of reading to your child and avoiding television and video games is nonsense, and that despite my questionable childhood, I turned out just fine.

Sure, but what could I have been?

How much potential did I actually possess as a child, and how much of that was lost because of the way in which my parents chose to raise me?

Probably a lot if the research is correct.

Yet our decision to keep Clara away from the television until she is two in no way casts judgment upon those parents who do not.  The research is certainly not conclusive and parents are entitled to make their own decisions. 

In fact, if it’s true that television viewing before the age of two retards cognitive development, then it’s fine by me if everyone sits their infants in front of the boob tube. Less competition for Clara in the future.

But too often, people assume that our decision somehow impugns their own parenting choices, and so they leap to their own defense, unnecessarily, by telling my how they turned out fine and how their other kids are doing great even though they watched plenty of TV as infants and toddlers.

And that is when I do pass judgment on them, not for their parenting decisions, but for their inability to understand lost potential, no matter how fine they turned out. 

Fine is not always good enough.