Aaah, CBeebies. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! You have created a continual stream of benign, advert-free and (generally) educational children’s television. You lovely bloody geniuses! I mean, where else can we find shows that explore emotional intelligence at a 3-year-old level, or encourage kids to use their imaginations to enjoy classical music, or even covertly teach counting through the cunning use of an eccentric beige character who has a love of stones?
That’s right, people, I love CBeebies. I’m not afraid to admit. And I let Bubs watch TV. Quite a lot.
*hyperventilates with the overwhelming fear of self-righteous parental judgement*
Joking aside, for some reason TV has recently been added to my “oh my God, am I ruining my child?” list of irrational fears. As I type this I can genuinely feel my anxiety heightening. We all have these moments. Panic sets in as a giant, bright red neon sign switches on in your mind. “DANGER: BAD MOTHER ALERT!” it warns, flashing violently.
But it’s weird I should feel that – even in a self-aware sort of a way – because almost everyone I know lets their kids watch TV. It’s a totally accepted, alright thing, isn’t it? Okay, some people choose not to let their kids watch any screens, which seems reasonable, but it doesn’t mean that they are kinder, more creative, better parents, does it?
IT DOESN’T, DOES IT???
No, it doesn’t. Breathe.
There is always something or other in the news linking behaviour to health issues. Not that it takes a genius to work out that if a child plays X-Box all weekend and doesn’t go outside at all then they are more likely to become obese (I’ll take that PhD now, please). But still there always seems to be some study saying kids who do/don’t do this are more likely to become underachievers/unhealthy adults/murderous rapscallions.
Like research on other parenting issues that can get a bit judgey (e.g. formula-feeding and the use of dummies) this stuff often gets simplified by the media. I mean “researchers have found possible negative outcomes to TV watching but these may also be due to socioeconomic factors” isn’t exactly clickbait is it?? No, we want a headline that goes something like “Children Who Watch TV Are Basically F*cked, Scientists Say.” That’s the one that will go viral.
The problem with this kind of sensationalist rubbish is that it draws a false divide. On the one hand there are children who are read to and sung to, who love books and spend a lot of times outdoors, who have oodles of face-to-face interaction with their parents; on the other there are kids who watch TV. Of course this also implies two kinds of parents; those who can be bothered and those who can’t. Bleurgh.
But what if your kids can be both kinds of kid? Or parents can be both kinds of parents? What if those of us who spend most of our time being very much bothered with entertaining and caring for our children sometimes just want to sit down for 20 minutes? What if that was okay?
My Bubs loves books. LOVES them. We were on a plane when he was about 10 months old and he was kicking off majorly, and what was the thing that finally calmed him down? Being read a book. (we did feel a flutter of parental triumph at that particular moment). Bubs likes drawing and playing outside and watching bubbles and singing and dancing and all that good stuff. But you know what? He also enjoys a spot of TV. He can actually sing the Pingu theme tune and points at the TV in delighted surprise every time the Ninky-Nonk/Pinky-Ponk bursts through the hedge in the Night Garden. It’s really very cute.However, I recently discovered that TV isn’t ‘recommended’ for kids under two-years-old and have been a slightly torturous inward debate ever since. Before they are TWO? Oops. That ship has well and truly sailed. I reckon Bubs was first introduced to CBeebies at around the 3 month mark (oh the shame!).
So I had to have a look at why these recommendations were put in place: “A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” We are told by the American Academy of Peadiatrics. Well, duh! Like, that is totes obvs!
It’s so black and white, I mean why does that statement mean no screen time whatsoever? NO TV OR ALL IS LOST! It’s as if a few episodes of Tinga Tinga Tales is somehow a gateway-drug to a hardcore TV addiction in which children become unable to imagine and create. I’m not saying this can’t happen. In fact, I’m sure it does in homes where the TV is a third (first?) parent and no one talks about their day or reads or sings song. Sad face.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here. No one is advocating sitting your 4-year-old to binge watch an entire season of Breaking Bad. That would be properly awful.
Sometimes I let Bubs watch TV in really sensible way. I use iPlayer to select the programme and I limit him to one episode, just long enough for me to get something done (often a nappy change: TV is a Godsend for parents of pooey, wriggly toddlers).
But other times I just put it on because I can’t think what else to do. It’s only 10am and I’ve already read that book 5 times and sung my full repertoire of nursery rhymes. The day stretches out before me like a particularly shouty question mark and I just need 10 minutes to stare into space or check my email or something.
Then there are those times when, franky, I just want to watch some telly. I like telly. Other than the smorgasbord of delights offered on CBeebies the only TV show my son is aware of is Pointless, which I occasionally put on for us to watch ‘together’. What? It’s super educational man! I mean, who knew there was an element called Einsteinium? Huh?
I’m not pretending this is the ideal in parenting habits. But I’m not the ideal parent. I’m a human. Shock horror.
Based on the anecdotal evidence I have, I am pretty darn sure this regular TV watching will cause Bubs no long term harm. As a child I watched a fair bit of CBBC, and Neighbours, and then switched over to BBC2 for The Simpsons (those were the days!). Still, I have managed to grow up into a relatively emotionally intelligent person who holds a Masters Degree in Cultural History with Distinction. #justsaying. I also have a friend who, as the 3rd child, was pretty much plonked in front of the TV with a colouring book for much of her childhood. She is now, as well as just being lovely, a qualified doctor who’s taking a year out to do an art foundation course. Well-rounded much?
Don’t get me wrong, I think parents who don’t let their kids watch TV are awesome; I just wish my admiration wasn’t accompanied by a stomach-curdling dose of inferiority complex. It’s not their fault I feel this way, of course it’s not. It’s the fault of a society that has come to believe we must consult ‘experts’ at every turn. Every parenting decision must be scrutinised under the microscope of Research, conclusions reached and expounded. A one-size-fits all code of parenting.
What if we, I don’t know, made decisions based on common sense that were guided by our love for our children, as well as a healthy dose of realistic expectations of ourselves? I mean, isn’t that what most of us are doing?
Yeah, I thought so.
So, in conclusion. TV, it’s like, totally fine. Isn’t it?