It all started six months ago. My one-year-old son, who previously slept peacefully for most of our 45 minute commute home from work and daycare, suddenly started freaking out for the entire car ride. He would wail uncontrollably, and there was nothing I could do to comfort him. Baby music CDs, singing in the car, giving him many, many toys to play with, pulling over repeatedly throughout the drive…nothing worked. So my parents bought us a DVD player you could hang over the back of the driver seat, as well as several Sesame Street DVDs. Just as I was getting ready to install it, Lucas magically got over his fear. We realized he hated driving home in the dark. As the days grew longer, he settled down into a happy commuter baby again, pulling off his right shoe and sock and grinning away in the back seat like nothing happened.
So the DVD player has just sat there, gathering dust, for six months now.
Fast-forward to present day, and Lucas is starting to give me trouble in the car again. This time, it’s straight boredom. He throws his toys down after five minutes. He protests that he wants to go “out-SIDE!” (His favorite phrase.) Then he points to the light inside the car and says “ight, ight, ight” for 45 minutes, whining and complaining until I turn the light on and off for him. Once is never enough. He wants me to turn that light on and off for the entire drive. That ain’t happening.
So now I’m back to considering the DVD player, but I continue to hesitate. Why, you ask? I’m not one to follow every one of the American Association of Pediatrics’ strict guidelines. I stopped breastfeeding at 9 months. I turned Lucas’ carseat to face forward at one year. (The recommendation is face backwards until two…that’s just crazy talk.) But for some reason, the warning of keeping children from watching TV before they are two years old is one I tend to take seriously.
You see, I was a communications and mass media major both in undergrad and in grad school. I studied the effects of mass media messaging (including TV, movies, radio, etc.) on both adults and children, and I know the impact that repeated exposure to media can have, especially on a very young child. I’m not one who believes that violent media makes a violent person, but I do think that if you get too lazy and let the TV/movie/video game do the parenting for you, your child is going to lack the skills to discern good content from bad content, and possibly even reality from fantasy. (Hello, Fox News viewers!) And the thing is, it’s very easy to let media step in and do your job as a parent. Already, Lucas comes home and grabs at our iPhones, flipping through pictures, playing videos of himself, and giggling at silly farmhouse apps. If I add an hour and a half of DVD time to his repertoire, you’re talking about nearly two hours of media exposure a day…for a baby.
So is that a bad thing, you ask? What’s the problem with Sesame Street and educational apps? Well, I can’t answer that. I take care to expose Lucas to what I deem is “good content,” but I still get uncomfortable at the idea that I’m making this media so readily available and such a part of his daily routine. If I introduce the DVD player in the car, will that be it? Will he never giggle and clap with me when I play a cute song for him? In the future, will he never fill me in on his day because he’ll be too immersed in his movie? Will he always expect his DVD for every car ride, and flip out if I decide I don’t want him to watch a movie today?
I’m putting this question out to you, Internet, because I’m truly torn. I don’t want our 45-minute commute to be any more tortuous than it already is, but I also don’t want to set up a scenario in which I’m bogging down my baby with too much media stimulation. Do any of your have DVD players in your car? Do you use them with very young children? Am I just overreacting because—like doctors who have children and are over-sensitive to potential illnesses—I’ve seen too much?