In his tiny hut in a town in Indonesia, Ardi Rizal has become somewhat of a tourist attraction. People watch him and snap pictures, excited to get a glimpse of a two-year-old who has taken up a rather adult habit: his obese toddler body sits aboard a red toy truck as he smokes cigarettes, one after the other.

When our young assume so-called “adult habits,” we are astonishedWhen a video of cigarette-addicted Ardi surfaced on YouTube just under a month ago, it sparked horrified reactions all over the globe. Health officials criticized Indonesia’s tobacco problem (they’re one of the few countries that allow widespread cigarette advertising), while parent-bloggers cursed Ardi’s parents for their inability to control their child. To say the least, Ardi’s bad baby habit had everyone . . . well, fuming.

But with an endless wave of reactions on every front, it seems the real caution inherent in Ardi’s tale was covered in ash. Responses of horror and condemnation are warranted, but what has this chubby Indonesian toddler really taught us?

It’s not surprising to learn that little Ardi’s father is a heavy smoker. After all, the kid had to pick up a cigarette somewhere. How, then, is the world so aghast at this baby’s adoption of a bad habit, when he was exposed to it every single day? Could it be that the world believes that, because our babies can’t walk or speak, they are somehow blind to our actions?

The public is enamored by videos of Ardi’s smoking because he is a baby acting like an adult. But in Ardi’s defense, he couldn’t be acting more like a baby! After all, what is a baby if not a little vulnerable sponge, soaking up our every mood, word, and—more obviously—action?

When our six-month-old copies something we do, we gawk. Clapping hands. Waving goodbye. Watching and learning is primary; parents are their only model of what it means to be a human. Their developing brains are never going to be as reliant on our actions as they are in their infant and toddler years. We may not see it right away, but they eventually become what they have watched and heard ever since they were born. There’s no hiding. Like father, like son.

And yet, when our young assume so-called “adult habits,” we are astonished. “What word did he just say???” cry foul-mouthed parents. Or what about the popular video of the toddler dancing to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” in a diaper? It may seem cute now, but when she turns four and starts dressing skimpily and actually mimicking the inappropriate dance moves, she’ll be on YouTube again. We’ll all be horrified—and somehow surprised.

Perhaps Ardi’s father thought he would stop smoking when his son was “old enough” to be impressionable. Perhaps he doesn’t realize—just like the rest of us often don’t—that “old enough” is actually a very young age.

Even though our newborns seem like out-of-touch blobs, they’re going to start picking up our shtick sooner than we thinkEvery parent needs to realize that our every action—both good deeds and bad habits—gets collected by our young . . . by our very young. And it’s normal. This is what babies do. They don’t become susceptible overnight, but over time. There is not going to be a magical day in which your child alerts you by saying, “Mom, Dad, I’m watching now!” So even though our newborns seem like out-of-touch blobs, they’re going to start picking up our shtick sooner than we think. We need to ditch our bad habits, and realize that our responsibility to be positive role models starts before they can say “Mama.” Sure, it’s easier said than done. That’s why, if your child is still in utero—or even but a thought in G‑d’s mind—there’s never been a better time to change.

Although smoking Ardi is an extreme example, he nevertheless makes the point. Through the national exposure his puffing has earned, perhaps the adult world will learn something about the impressions we make on our young. Thank you, little addicted Ardi. While you sit in Indonesia chain-smoking, the world is getting a harsh lesson in parenting. Perhaps, in that way, your blackening lungs won’t be entirely in vain.