Pediatrician-Dad Finds It Tough to Take Own Advice

Dr. David Hill is a pediatrician. He's also a father. And recently, he is finding that his recommendations to patients don't jell with what he allows his own kids to do. On one issue — TV watching — he definitely is not practicing what he preaches.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Doctor David Hill is a pediatrician and a father and he's recently noticed that he doesn't always practice what he preaches to his fellow parents.

Dr. DAVID HILL (Pediatrician): Every summer, our family faces the same dilemma. The only time all three of our children are happy, quiet and clean is when they watch television. So why are we forcing them to play outside? The grass is full of ticks, wasps, no fresh air and sunshine causes skin cancer. Why not just give in and let them stay inside with their friend SpongeBob?

The problem is I'm a pediatrician. As a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, I advise parents that children under age 2 shouldn't watch any television. It delays their language development. So it was awkward, my own son could name "Thomas the Tank Engine" and all his mechanical friends at 22 months. Since then, he's learned other words, even some verbs.

We have a great backyard, always full of kids, just not ours. I suspect it's because we're the only family in the neighborhood that makes our children wear bike helmets on the swing set. I'm a pediatrician, I've seen things. Sometimes, I think I should be more like the dad next door, who actually locks his children outside during the day. They're great at skating, bicycling and playing baseball. Barricades are also building skills. Not only can they program the cable box, they can make their own popcorn.

I've even considered cutting out TV altogether, but I don't want my kids' friends to feel sorry for them the way I felt for my friend Jennifer. When we were growing up, her family didn't own a television. To her, the "The Six Million Dollar Man" was just some rich guy who'd be worth 28 million today. My mom was at pains to explain. Jennifer's family chose not to buy a TV.

I spent my formative years watching television and I came out fine. Okay. I can't skate or play baseball. Those were the days before 24-hour cartoon channels. We had Saturday mornings from "Hong Kong Phooey" to the "Super Friends," then it was either go outside or vacuum the house.

To be fair, our family does try to follow the AAP guidelines. We limit our children's TV viewing to two hours a day. That's less than the 46 hours the average American child watches, but the AAP policy statement is funny. Essentially it says television makes children obese, violent and ignorant. So let's give them 14 hours a week. But who am I to laugh? The only way I could read the statement uninterrupted was to park the kids in front of The Wiggles.

My favorite guideline says parents should watch TV with their children. That we can do. But if television is our babysitter, at least we can say we've done a very thorough background check.

BLOCK: David Hill is a pediatrician who lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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