I had two choices. The first – let’s call it the honesty option – would have had me citing a few articles I’d seen recently. “Mister,” I could have said emphatically, “there’s no link between sugar and increased activity. As I recently read in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists have learned, and I quote, ‘even when intake exceeds typical dietary levels, neither dietary sucrose nor aspartame affects children’s behaviour or cognitive function.'” I could have told him that. I might have strengthened the argument by citing a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association that stated if parents do perceive an increase in their child’s activity after she takes on a load of sugary treats, it’s got to do with either her parents’ expectations or the fact that the high energy is the result of a party or other exciting event. I know my children are more excitable in the days leading up to Halloween than on the candy-filled few days following.
I didn’t say any of this though. I’ll go a long way out of my way to avoid confrontation. Plus, if the man is like me, he’ll go on believing whatever he wants.
For instance, I happen to know that sitting too close to the TV is not bad for your eyes. In fact, when I checked with the North American Ophthalmological Society on this, I learned that not only is there no evidence of that, but if you already start out with poor vision, you might be better off sitting closer to the screen. What’s more, when you’re watching a show, your house lights should be turned down, so there’s no reflection off the screen.
If, on the other hand, you think that’s going to stop me from taking a strong position on the situation when I walk into the living room and my kids are glued to the tube, you’re mistaken. As my brother, Ed, the CUPW guy, says, I go postal.
I turn up the dimmer (“it’s too dark in here”) and let them know that they simply can’t sit that close to the TV. Sorry, science. I’m just doing my job.
The woman who answered the phone at the North American Ophthalmological Society in Ottawa laughed and cut to the crux of the issue when I told her about the contradiction between what we know and how we act: “Parents are born knowing that sitting too close to the TV’s bad for the eyes,” she said.
What I really think we’re born knowing – or at least we learn eventually – is that there are simply some childhood behaviours that scare the bejesus out of us. And we’ll find explanations so life’s just that much more manageable. If your little boy runs around like a Tasmanian Devil on steroids, and you’re thinking he’s not slowing down until he dies, you want an explanation. (Don’t come looking to me for it though.) When my guys are cemented to the television set, it’s not really their eyes I’m worried about. Rather, I’m terrified by the Moonie glow that their little faces assume. As if they’re excluding everything we’ve ever taught them, any books we’ve ever read, all the songs we’ve sung. In front of the tube – even when they’re watching what’s-his-face, the science guy – they’re zombies. It’s scary. So, what would you do? Explain that you’re worried about them losing consciousness and you feel more comfortable when they appear somewhat removed from the TV’s spell, and that sitting too close to the TV may not be bad for their eyes but it’s bad for my brain? Or do you yell? Rational parent that I am, having read all those scientific reports and all, I yell.