on babies, tv, and praying-as-we-ought

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.

‘Second-hand TV harmful to babies,’ the newspaper proclaimed. And all I could think of were the many football games we watched during the fall when S was an infant.

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.

5 thoughts on “on babies, tv, and praying-as-we-ought

  1. Arwen wrote a really great article on F&F about incorporating prayer throughout the day. You’re so right that we need practical and encouraging suggestions like that to help us implement the things that are important.

    I always shared your husband’s concerns about TV. When my son was a young infant, I would turn on the TV while I was feeding him. But from the time he was 4 months, we have hardly exposed him to any TV at all. For me this has not been hard, probably because I only have one child.

  2. That was such a great article she wrote! Others can check it out here: http://www.faithandfamilylive.com/blog/the_real_waste_of_time/

    We don’t really watch TV in our house, with the exception of ND football (the few shows my husband and I like, we watch on Hulu since we can never catch them when they’re on!). But while I’m happy with that decision, not exposing S to TV came back to bite me when I was laid up with morning sickness – I kept trying to get him to watch Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers DVDs, and he had no interest at all! Ironic when our parenting decisions come back to bite us… 😉

    I don’t think TV is absolutely terrible for kids by any means; the vast majority of people I know let their kids watch some TV and I think that is fine. I loved PBS shows growing up! I just find it interesting that it’s “medical advice” that so many of us ignore, when we wouldn’t let our kids run around in the summer without sunscreen, etc. Which is why I made the comparison to prayer – it’s good advice that we know is “good for us” but we still don’t do it as we should.

  3. I like the connection. I have to say, I am guilty on all fronts: turning on DVDs for the kids and not praying as I ought to pray. Maybe I should just pray each time I turn the TV on for the kids!:). I am sure the more kids you have the less you need “easy entertainment”, but I still haven’t figured out how to manage some tasks without the help of my DVD friends!:). This is especially true when I am solo parenting in the evenings. In a perfect world I would never on TV!:). At least now I will think to pray when I hit play!:)

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