A Great Book and a Really Stupid Pediatrician

… and I am LIVID right about now.

Let me explain some background information before I delve into the tale.

I am kind of a brain-development-research junkie. I love the human brain. I love the way it works. I love reading research and studies and articles that reveal more about the brain. I especially love studies on babies/toddlers/kids because that’s my whole entire life. I am here, raising my own kid(s). When I’m not here, raising my own kids, I will be in a classroom, teaching kids. I even mentioned to Jonathan that I’d like to volunteer in a hospital, rocking the babies in the NICU (do they let you do that anymore?!). It’s what I do, it’s what I’ve done. In fact, the majority of my jobs over my lifetime have been nannying/babysitting/camp counseling. I just can’t get enough of kids.

One of the most recent (and in my opinion, best) books on the topic is Your Brain on Childhood: The Unexpected Side Effects of Classrooms, Ballparks, Family Rooms, and the Minivan by Gabrielle Principe. Her book details the reasons that several things in our modern society are… um… not ideal for babies and kids. I can’t say that I totally agree with her complete reliance on (and numerous references to) our brain’s “evolutionary history,” but the modern-day research she cites (she cites over two hundred studies throughout her book) more than makes up for the lack of credible history.

Her main themes in the book include parents’ affinity for pushing children toward excellence to the point where parents will believe any claims made by toy manufacturers as long as it makes the loud annoying shouting toy sound “educational”; society’s obsession with building proper “self-esteem” rather than allowing kids to realize they’re not actually as great as they think they are (entitled, anyone?); ease with which parents set their children in front of the television either to educate their children further (learn a new language!) or to occupy their children while the parents relax (or work); our country’s educational system, which is one of the worst in the world, which keeps getting worse; perceived “normalcy” of organized sports and activities for kids, beginning in infancy; and the lack of the great outdoors in our kids’ childhoods.

Okay, let me hone in on one of these topics. TV. Here’s a direct quotation from the book that pretty much sums up my own opinions on the topic as well:

We listen to the American Academy of Pediatrics when they tell us to put our babies to sleep on their backs, buckle them into car safety seats, slide them into bicycle helmets, and slather sunscreen on their skin. Yet when they tell us that children under two years should have no exposure to television, we completely ignore their advice.

There are MANY studies that have been performed which prove that any television exposure causes physical changes in an infant’s brain. Now I might be taking this too far- but don’t the words “physical changes in an infant’s brain” seem to be similar to the words “brain damage?” Neural pathways actually form in different parts of the brain, causing permanent physical changes, which short-circuit other pathways which are in charge of necessary functions of the brain. For realz, I am not making this up.

Even before reading this book, I had heard that there were some thoughts that TV viewing is associated with ADHD and such. Gabrielle Principe, however, actually downplays those theories in light of the other research. Sure, she cites the study “…which found that for each additional hour of television watched by a child under the age of three, the likelihood of an attention problem by age seven increased by 10 percent. So a three-year-old who watches three hours of television per day is 30 percent more likely to have attention problems than a child who doesn’t watch television.” But ADHD has not been PROVEN to be caused by television viewing. But she also makes it clear that because of a reflex that is innate in all humans, the orienting reflex, a baby who is near a television will have no choice but to pay attention to it. This will deprive the baby of learning the skill of attention- she will not be able to focus, truly focus, on anything else until the TV is off.

OKAY, so there’s the background- you now understand at least some of my reasoning behind our family’s decision to just sell our TV at a yard sale a last summer. (Don’t get me started on commercialization, violence, and skewed media. I have done my research there, as well.)

But today’s visit to our pediatrician’s office was the trigger. Hula Girl went in for her 2-year checkup. I will do a separate post on that. We have not seen this particular pediatrician before for a number of reasons. First, she’s brand new to the practice. Second, we’ve only visited this particular office twice before- once for Hula Girl’s 18-month checkup, and once for Hula Girl’s ear infections. We saw different doctors/RNs each time. No biggie. Third, we don’t get sick. We have no reason to have a particular doctor. 🙂

So we meet this lady, who is in her sixties, who introduces herself and says she’s living here to be near grandchildren. Great! I thought, She’s going to have a lot of empathy and be really good with Hula Girl!

Um, not so. My first clue was when she wouldn’t let me even talk to Hula Girl to explain what was going to happen. See, I like to prepare Hula Girl before going to the doctor. This morning we talked about how the doctor would be touching her head, tummy, legs, etc., and would be asking Hula Girl to open her mouth and such. Well, the doctor asked… and then when I tried to say, “See, it’s just like we talked about!” she kept talking and talking and raising her voice to talk over me. Back off, lady. I am trying to help you out by allowing MY KID to feel comfortable around you!!!! To no avail. Hula Girl clammed up and would NOT participate. Shocker. She eventually had to pry Hula Girl’s mouth open with a tongue depressor. Um, if she had just given me 3 seconds to speak softly and calmly to my daughter, that would never have happened. I wanted Hula Girl to get a splinter so I could sue for malpractice…

Then it happened. She looked at Hula Girl’s knees and said, “I like seeing knees that are bumped and scratched like this! It shows that the kids aren’t spending too much time in front of the TV.”

To which I responded, “Well, we don’t even have a TV. If the AAP is going to say, ‘No TV under three!’ then we’re going to listen.”

She said something like, “Well, those guidelines aren’t really feasible for anyone anyway.” (Um, hello? I just told you we don’t have a TV. And you’re saying it’s not feasible for anyone. Open your ears.)

She went on. “You know, there are two really good programs that I love for kids this age. Signing Time and My Baby can Read.”

I was trying to be casual and not ruffle any feathers… but I had already lost respect for this woman and her opinions. So I said, “What do you think about the numerous clinical studies that have proven that viewing Signing Time is directly related to speech delays in children?”

Her response (classic, btw), “I don’t really believe in those studies. I mean, my four-year-old grandson, who has a speech delay, has been watching Signing Time since he was a baby. It’s really good, too, because it helped when he was younger and couldn’t talk at all. He could sign things like ‘milk’ and ‘more’ so it cut down on the frustration levels.”

Did you catch that? Her four-year-old grandson, who has a speech delay, has been watching Signing Time since he was a baby. Um, isn’t that what I said the research shows?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!? But she doesn’t believe in the research?!Open your eyes, crazy lady. Your grandson is a statistic!!!!

I chose not to point out that my daughter, who has never seen TV (except in 4-minute clips of Elmo during illnesses and post-surgery), also signed pre-speech. In fact, if we really want to get technical, she signed DURING speech, too. She can do BOTH. And what else?! I taught her. She didn’t have to watch a stupid program (even though the lady’s voice is “so beautiful,” according to the pediatrician we saw today) to learn these things.

Okay, so recap:

1. The pediatrician we saw today thinks the AAP’s guidelines are meaningless.

2. She doesn’t believe in clinical research findings that are replicable and reputable, even though…

3. Her anecdotal evidence PROVES the research.


Needless to say, we will not be visiting that pediatrician EVER again.


  1. Kristy said,

    June 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Wow, she was not trained in listening skills…among other deficiencies. I hate that.

    • June 13, 2012 at 7:26 pm

      I think I was just really frustrated with her inability to slow herself down enough to realize I was trying to help… and it cost us a pleasant experience. I hope Hula Girl doesn’t remember it at all. (Her next appointment isn’t for a year, so if we can keep her out of there for Gelato’s appointments, that would be good!)

      • Kristy said,

        June 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm

        Yes, that is a real shame for Hula Girl. Here’s hoping that she doesn’t remember!

  2. Wendy said,

    June 14, 2012 at 5:31 am

    Please don’t get me wrong, I agree that too much TV can be bad for kids. I happen to have a slightly higher definition of “too much” than you do, but that is beside the point.

    I had to comment, however, on your statement:
    “don’t the words “physical changes in an infant’s brain” seem to be similar to the words “brain damage?””

    I’m curious, because to me the words “physical changes in an infant’s brain” sound a lot like learning. When I am reading to my baby every day I am desperately hoping it will cause physical changes in his brain.

    That is what baby’s brains (and to a lesser extent kid and adult brains) do – they change. They change based on genetics and experiences and environment and parenting. I limit my kids screen time for many reasons, but not because I don’t want their brain to change.

    • June 14, 2012 at 1:30 pm

      I suppose I proffered that opinion without giving it any background. Here’s my (undisclosed in the post and quite truncated) reasoning behind this statement:

      Several research studies have found that neurons form “superhighways,” if you will, when technology is involved- the information gleaned from screen time gets into the brain faster and easier with each viewing. These superhighways bypass the slower, more intricate routes that information can take.

      The problem here is that the brain is constantly changing- it’s constantly pruning out the extra neurons that don’t get used. So the issue is that when the technological superhighways get built, the brain goes through and demolishes some of the other means of learning prematurely. This is one reason attention to tasks (ie a child’s ability to focus) can suffer if children view too much TV. (My definition of “too much” is the same as the AAP’s- ANY.)

      Thank you for pointing out my unclear statement! Hope that clears up my opinion a bit.

  3. June 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    […] her over to another type of milk. The visit to the pediatrician yesterday (even though it was TERRIBLE) really helped me make up my mind. That, and posting my query on my favorite online Mom’s […]

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