If you Google children and TV and glance at the first ten articles to feature in your search (and even if you dis-regard those that emanate from the more alarmist sections of the British press) you would be forgiven for banishing the evil instrument of entertainment from your home, and your iPad and phone, indeed from your very thoughts. Without a flicker. Without a backward glance. And then you would……….well, good question. And one I had to answer recently.
I grew up in the early 70s – in a largely TV free household. Not that there was much children’s TV then. My enduring love of Blue Peter began and that was really as much as was tolerated in our house. TV was regarded as undesirable. But I wanted to watch and I wanted to join in the conversations about TV programmes at school. My husband’s house hold embraced TV. It was on. In two rooms at least. On different channels. At competing volumes. So we have both wrestled with “issues” about TV from childhood. Our children have no such problem. A huge range of channels to feed their interests is available. All day, every day (if we let it be so). They love it. End of.
It was the not listening that got to me. The total devotion to the cartoon they were watching favoured massively over Mummy asking what kind of drink they would like/to tidy up/go to the bathroom/come walk the dogs/just look at me dammit………In a huge, huffy, Mummy fit of pique and sheer frustration one Sunday afternoon I announced “That’s it.” ” No more TV.” “For a WEEK” and just to ensure that I had consigned myself to the role of entertainer in chief I added “and no games on the phone or DS either” as I switched off the TV with a dramatic flourish and flounced out of the living room.
It felt really good. Slightly chastened the children scampered off to their rooms and quickly re-discovered their dressing up box. The joy of this discovery was doubled when one of their friends came to visit and gleefully joined in the dressing up frenzy. The house was soon filled with Tigers, Dragons, Ballerinas
and scary pirates. I preened just a little and muttered at my long suffering husband about children being freed to make their own entertainment.
The next day after school there was the usual snack and homework.
And then, to my happy astonishment and without a glance at the silent grey beast in the corner of the room the children whipped off to the playroom and soon became involved in a complicated story involving high drama for some of their Playmobil toys and rather a lot of giggling and playing nicely together. I waited for the twosome to reappear, bored for a while but when it became apparent that they were not going to I withdrew to the office and got on with some work.
On the Tuesday the pattern repeated, instead of a constant stream of interruptions and demands that I referee disputed ownership or sell the other child I was largely ignored. Every so often a happy little face would pop round the office doorway and shriek delightedly “I’m a hippo and this is my friend the crocodile and we’re being chased by an elephant and ohhhh …” before dashing off again. This wouldn’t do. I was missing being needed! I employed some maternal cunning and switched on the webcam at Vancouver Aquarium and turned up the volume just a little too loud…In a matter of minutes two little heads appeared and quietly sidled up beside me..in a moment they were on my knee, sharing my knee! and we were chatting about the animals on the webcam and exploring the rest of the site. After a wee while I popped out of the office to make a cup of tea. When I came back brother and sister were cuddled together on my chair (admittedly big black swivelly and rather comfy!) and were excitedly discussing what to look at next. Agreeing and co-operating. Curiouser and curiouser.
Wednesday is swim night and Lego club and involves highly complicated strategic planning and vehicle scheduling to ensure that two children are delivered to different places at the same time. Television is not an issue.
Thursday is shinty night. A fabulous West Highland sport that is rather like hockey but without the safety rules. Children love it. After shinty (and once the evenings are light enough) there is an informal football session and everyone returns home to fall straight into bed muddy and tired.
Friday was a slightly more tricky proposition. After school we visit the library and as well as choosing new books we choose a DVD to watch together as a family. It’s something I really enjoy.. getting a few snacks together, making a cosy nest on the sofa and snuggling in for a hour or so of suspended disbelief and shared oohs, aaahs and giggles or sniffles depending on the movie. What to do? My desire for movie time won the day! But the anticipation of the shared experience was better than ever and it really felt like we were rounding off the week and starting the weekend.
So..not a scientific social experiment and no, we didn’t decide to banish the TV. But I did remind myself of how easy it is to switch it off and how I needed some more family time for me as much as for the children. Sometimes it’s hard to say no when the children want to watch TV and sometimes it’s hard to leave my office when I should..but actually the rewards of doing both have made me smile .