I have a confession. I’m not even sure I should be admitting it, but since it’s online and many people don’t know my identity, I feel I can take the risk.
This could be incendiary, but here goes: I LET MY CHILDREN WATCH TV!!! Sometimes Bigger Boy watches more than one programme at a time when Littler is having his nap and I need to sort out non-child-related matters (such as feeding myself – an indulgence, I know, but I like to reward myself now and again). I only confess to like-minded mothers who thank the God of Children’s TV for The Wonderpets, Peppa Pig and Sesame Street. Where would I be without Linny, Tuck and Ming-Ming? It is thanks to them that I can have a blissful demand-free half hour here and there, when I can treat myself to something like cooking the boys’ supper or putting the laundry in the tumble dryer.
Living as I do in an uber-liberal neighbourhood, I can’t admit this kind of thing in public. Reaction from some quarters would be such that I might be lynched, tied to the Brooklyn Bridge and made to eat my own body weight in organic blueberries while being thrashed with locally-sourced kale. I cannot and do not wish to generalise, but some parents around here talk about TV as if it is an incarnation of the devil. Yes, I am an educated parent who knows that children should be spending most of their time involved in active, imaginative play, but really, I hold no truck with parents who ban TV from their children’s lives.
A recent post on our local online parents’ forum was from a parent complaining about the television in a recently-opened burger place. Drawn there by the excitement of meat from grass-fed cattle and walls made from recycled cork, the mother was outraged that her three-year-old might be subjected to evil Tom and Jerry. I don’t remember the exact wording, but she said something along the lines of: ‘My son never watches TV at home. He has only ever seen a couple of YouTube videos and he once watched Shaun The Sheep at his Granny’s house.’ ’WHAT?!’ I shouted at the computer. If you want to shroud TV in mystery, thereby making your child determined to watch it even more, you’re on the right track. And if you want him to be teased by other kids when he can’t join in their conversations about popular TV programmes, go right ahead. I, too, do not want the TV on more than two hours a day (God knows I barely watch it myself), and I don’t want a house drowning in TV-inspired merchandise, but I also know that trying to live in a bubble unpenetrated by popular culture is not a realistic option in today’s world.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the TV programmes I used to watch. Play Away, Playschool, Fingermouse, Rainbow, Bod…then later Rentaghost, Take Hart and Blue Peter, among many others. They ground me in that era, and when I think about them they take me back to the 80s – but I feel similarly nostalgic about everything else I used to do – ballet lessons, the never-ending stream of stories I wrote, drawing, crafts, playing with toys, making dens, kicking around the street with other children, playing tennis, horse riding… TV was just a part of it, and a valuable one at that. I have no doubt that it was an inspiration to me in the childhood games it triggered and the stories I produced.
Littler Boy isn’t yet particularly interested in television (though we hold out hope for the future). For Bigger, it is a wind-down activity after preschool or at the end of the day. He learns an incredible amount from it in the process, and talks excitedly about his new discoveries. It is from television he has recently learned how a sailboat works, what Vikings are and why some animals hatch from eggs. These are not subjects that I naturally broach on a daily basis, and I like the fact that a source other than myself can introduce new topics to him. If I get half an hour’s wind-down time as well, everyone’s a winner.