I seem to be encountering quite a few people, recently, who think that TV is ‘a bad thing’ for children. I’m sure that the computer game fans among you face similar attitudes about children and computer games. The idea seems to be that children are fundamentally damaged by access to TV, that their brains can’t cope with it and they would be better off without it. The talk is of the flashing lights and colours and short attention spans that it will (apparently) create. There is little discussion of the content of the programmes.
I have a lot of childhood memories that involve TV. I guess that people of my generation were among the first to have that influence in their lives – in this country anyway. I can remember the thrill of Doctor Who - dipping chips in ketchup and huddling around the tv. I can remember Andy Pandy with my mum at lunchtime when I was three. Looby-Lou had a special song that she sang about ‘the others’ being away and I used to sing it too – because my ‘others’ were at school and this was my secret time. I loved Bagpuss (of course) and Pipkins, which had a gorgeous talking hare. There were the imports like The Muppet Show and Mork and Mindy. I could tell you all about the Blue Peter appeal for Cambodia and how I entered a poster design in the competition for the International Year of the Child and got a runner-up badge and was thrilled.
When I got older there were dramas and comedies that spoke right to me. I remember that the Victoria Wood: as seen on tv shows started just after we bought our first video recorder. I taped them and watched them, again and again, learning the scripts and reciting them with my friends. I sat up very late into the night to watch a drama called The Two of Us, which told the tale of a relationship between two teenage boys. I can remember the chair I was sitting in, the look of certain scenes, the attack on one of the boys and some of the language. I saw that drama just once. It has stayed with me because it connected with me at a certain point in my life.
Oh, I could witter on like this for hours, telling you all about tv that made me squirm and tv that saved my sanity. But that would get rather tedious. And, after all, if my brain was fried in my early childhood, then no doubt all my perceptions have been skewed. But, the thing is, I don’t think it did harm me. I don’t think I do have a problem with concentration or thinking creatively. I don’t think I did as a child. I could spend three hours solid watching Champion the Wonder Horse and Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and Banana Splits, and then go and play with my dolls house for three hours. I did just that. I rode a bike a lot, read books up trees, did bizarre obstacle courses with my brother, played for hours in the bath – and watched tons of TV. When I was ten I got a black and white portable (beloved object that is in the loft and when last was plugged in still worked!) and had it in my room. The deadly sin of the modern parent and I had this in 1980! Ha! I shared a room with my brother at that age and we used to watch ‘The Professionals’ with the light off and the volume down. I don’t think it warped me. I’ve never felt compelled to get a bubble perm.
Our kids have had tv in their lives from the start. Both were mesmerised by videos of The Singing Kettle. It held the ever moving P still for half an hour and prompted extended fantasy play for Leo. It was sometimes infuriating crap (Jellikins made me ashamed for Rik Mayall) and sometimes a lovely nostalgia trip – Clangers, Bagpuss and The Herbs. Teletubbies became part of all our lives and I’ll always have a fondness for Po on her scooter and Tinky Winky’s bag. I never bothered about timing their TV watching but we all have a hatred of TV that isn’t being watched, so it gets switched off as soon as that starts to happen.
I do, sometimes, despair at the crap that is on TV. In my huffy opinion, there is way too much reality stuff and far too little original drama – for adults and kids. But there is still a great deal, in every day, that we can find to entertain, enlighten and educate us all. The music of Springwatch brings a smile to my face!
I’m all for unusual, minority choices in parenting. You kind of have to be if you home educate... If TV free life is your thing then good for you. But, what I object to is when people suggest that tv use is some kind of slack parenting strategy to keep children occupied – no matter the damage done to their brains. It’s also a favourite piece of government parenting ‘advice’ to limit screen time and use it as a bargaining, punishment/reward thing. To me, that is as objectionable as rationing access to books or cutting reading time if your child does something’ wrong’. Of course, if the oil runs out and we can’t power all our boxes of tricks then we’ll have to live without. But, I wonder, if in those dark homes, parents will huddle round the fire and tell their children traditional tales about Basil Brush....