Thursday, May 29, 2008

In defence of TV – that flickering box of delight...

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....


peri said...

Great post. I agree completely. Also children have to learn to self regulate and judge for themselves what is 'good' TV or not and their ideas of this can't be the same as their parents - due to individuality and other influences. J loves Mario cartoons - he even watches them on Youtube - I can't abide them - but it's his choice and who I am to judge his taste at this time in his life. I also think kids learn to balance these things - I remember getting bored with TV and going off to do other things, I also remember being inspired by it. TV gets blamed for so much, quite unjustly.

Sharon said...

Nicely said!

My children watch quite a lot of TV some days, then others times they will go for ages without switching it on. It's lovely when we gather together to watch Dr Who, but I can't stand some of what they like. Oh, we all like the Simpsons too.

They and I like using the BBCi Player and YouTube to watch stuff too.

Lucy said...

Apparently when my Nana was a child she was told that sitting around reading all day was bad and that she should be outside running around. So there's probably always been something that some people blame for twisting the minds of the young.

emma said...

That's a great post.

THe ONLY thing I hate about TV/DVDs and computer games is the way that when you have lost interest and moved away, the noises and images draw you back in. So yes, I spend a certain amount of my time judging whether something is no longer being watched/played on, and then moving in to turn it off.

Anonymous said...

Great post-brought up a discussion about our childhood viewing habits. Must be getting old..."our" tv programmes were better than today's stuff. I have a sister in law who describes tv as an evil creation, yet watches what she wants without question. It always makes us laugh because of the hypocrisy. Tv should be used however the watcher likes. I'm a "bad" mum 'cos i let my kids choose what to watch-sometimes they sit there for hours,other times the tv is off all day.

Anonymous said...

I’ve missed loads of posts! And I am sorry, but you are about to be delivered with a massive comment that should be an email, but I am here in your comment space now so here it will be.

Re: teevee post-flickering box of delight. As with every aint wot ya do it’s why and also how ye do it!

My mum was anti teevee when I was a kid - she’d grown up without it, and the house rule of my grandparents was if it was above zero temperature and the sun was even slightly showing it’s face then all kids were outside. As a result we didn’t get a teevee until I was over 7 years old, and when we did it was because my mum felt sorry for me not getting half the conversations at school. Then as now, kids are inclined to talk about what they saw on teevee.

Before teevee came into our house I can remember we would go to the Saturday Morning Cinema and see things like Champion the wonder horse and Zorro. That cinema experience made a great impression on me. I must have been one of the last of a generation who could really enjoy that sort of simple pleasure. I remember the cinema being packed, I wasn’t the only one without a telly at home even in the mid to late seventies. They still cost enough to be a luxury item, and then there was the licence.

My dad worked on the railways for a time (lol- that is funny innit? He was drunk and operating the signals!) and had a cosy little box that overlooked the tracks. He had a little black and white teevee in there and I can remember watching Bagpuss on the days he took me in to work with him – oh that is a cosy happy memory I like to evoke :)

I used to watch teevee in secret when my mum was out at night and she had told me that I had to be in bed for 7pm..I can remember seeing all sorts..great fun. But on the whole teevee was kind of boring in those days.

When I was nine I had a black and white teevee in my room and I can remember tuning into the first every broadcast of Channel 4 and thinking: WOW! The world is growing. I watched the Young Ones on that telly and thought it very ace.

My kids have spent enough hours in front of the flickering screen for me to be a hypocrite when I say that I reckons it can be too much of a good thing. But I discovered fairly early on that having an open tap to the channels pumped into the teevee didn’t work for us. We all (kids and adults) tend to get hooked on the quick change and advert cycle of the scheduled teevee and have never been able to master the art of reading a tv guide and planning our viewing. Also there is a helluva lot of crap to wade through to find the great programmes. So we have a teevee that cannot receive channels (we have the receiver taken out) and battle with the licence company who cannot believe we don’t watch channelled teevee.

We borrow a lot of films from a free DVD library our local council provides, we pay to rent them from a local store if it is a special film. We have a massive stock of ancient videos we go back to (including a treasured Bagpuss one). We buy boxed sets of our favourites (right now the boys are sat down salivating over a Jamie Oliver episode on DVD and planning a big meal) off Amazon. But generally we tend to know what we are seeing before we see it.

I have noticed that the younger kids ARE really affected by certain cartoons that they see only at Grandma’s who has a cable connection. I consider Cartoon Network to be the work of some very sick minds! LOL – I mean it, that stuff is well manky. Any of those hyper kids channels are just aload of tosh. Our youngest comes back twitchy and imitating the violent routines he has seen on Kimpossible and Incredible Hulk cartoons and Power Puff Girls and it causes us to ban him from seeing it. What else could we do?

I know that too much crappy teevee does screw some kids up, cos I have seen it. Too much MTV also has a lot to answer for. So we tend to limit our kids viewing until they are over nine-ten…then what we have found is that they are discerning. Before that age they will watch any old crap for hours and hours, it sort of desensitises them. My opinion is that it is probably the same for most kids, if we limit the amount of crap teevee they are exposed to at an early age they will tend not to be teevee zom-bies when they are older. I am really impressed with what my kids choose to watch these days as they just don’t ‘get’ crap teevee, so I reckons that it does depend on what they are exposed to at an early age.

Our kids are outside in nature a lot and I tend to think they have a nice balance between screen time and nature living. I hate it when we go to other peoples houses and they have the teevee as back-ground, which means that the kids are just immediately slumping down and staying that way.

And teletubbies gripped us all! I fought a woman for the last Tinky Winky toy in the shop when they were sheet hot (Tinky Winky my favourite!).

I know loads of parents who shove their kids in front of the teevee to get some space from them. I do this, and it is a lifesaver on occasions. The teevee fills in for those of us who are without extended family. But I feel bad if I get into the habit of using the teevee to keep the kids quiet and tend to be aware of why I am putting them in front of the screen and that helps.

We’ve had loads of times that we lived without a teevee at all and the kids didn’t miss it. We just went out more from what I remember. We limit the times the kids go on computer games because they just get addicted and unhappy and obsessed and won’t do or think about owt else if it is an op-tion.

*trails off talking in rambling style*


EF x

Allie said...

L, in particular, went through periods of watching endless Scooby and Power Rangers. Then he grew out of it. Maybe getting more discerning is just what happens with age.