My darling daughter Lily is now 20 months old, and though she’ll occasionally wander into the living room and glance up at the TV screen for a few moments before I get a chance to click it off, I can safely say that my wife and I have never allowed her to watch television. We don’t use the TV as a “babysitter,” and though it might be nice for the two of us to relax together by watching a show as Lily plays on the floor nearby, we deny ourselves that all-too-convenient pleasure. As long as Lily is in the room, the television stays off. It doesn’t exist for her. We are proud puritans on the subject. Not that we plan to keep our daughter in the TV dark forever. At a certain point — maybe in the next year, or maybe not until the year after that, when she’s coming up on four — we’ll start to let her tune in to certain shows, and from more or less the moment we do, her addiction to the religion of television will have begun. I’m talking about the addiction that everyone in this culture shares.
I shared it from a young age, in what seemed back then like a TV era legendary for its prime-time schlockiness. It was the age of Hogan’s Heroes, Lost in Space, Flipper, The Beverly Hillbillies, and other landmarks of Western Civilization. Even as a kid, I watched these shows not because they were good but simply because they were on, and they exerted a major influence on my imagination. (So did Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and MAD magazine.) Considering my own affectionate, junk-calorie relationship to the trash I grew up on, it may seem hypocritical of me to say that my own child can’t, for now, watch anything. But actually, what I’m keeping her away from isn’t bad shows. It’s the simple act of watching television — of staring at people that aren’t really people because they’re just images on a screen. They don’t, you know, respond. And I don’t want that cozily passive yet fundamentally unnatural, I-sit-here-and-watch-without-interacting relationship to influence the development of Lily’s brain. Since she’s not even two years old, that brain is still being wired; she’s too young, really, to know what television is. For right now, everyone she looks at should be someone who looks back.
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