Prompted by a thread on Mumsnet this week Mummy got rather mixed up in a debate over the rights and wrongs of watching TV as a child. It seems some bloke has advocated banning TV entirely for the under-3’s. For God’s sake! The under-3’s??
I have about enough time to eat my tea, go to a couple of playdates, do my homework, complete my music practice, and read a book or several before bed, without worrying about when I’m going to find a window for Tracey Beaker or Horrid Henry.
Don’t get me wrong, I will sit for 36 hours in front of the box as happily as the next kid, if you let me. I am perfectly content to switch off my head for that long. It’s Mummy that won’t let me; she gets fed up with the atmosphere of kids TV – did you know that CBeebies plays on a loop? If you sit for long enough you can watch Big Cook Little Cook 3 times during a day of Chicken Pox and know the recipe for Aubergine Spectacles off by heart by the time Daddy gets home.
Summing up the Mumsnet debate, it seems there are 3 main points of contention:
- TV is not educational, provides no intellectual stimulation, and is therefore inappropriate for children under the age of 3, who should be expanding their minds with toys and adult interaction.
- Parents who use TV as a distraction for the child, or as a babysitter replacement are somehow failing their children and setting them up for stunted intellectual development.
- Children get all the stimulation they need by simply watching their parents, so why would they need to watch TV?
Erm, right, first off I should point out that my Mum is about as stimulating to watch as the proverbial paint. The requisite 30 minutes of 1:1 interaction every morning that she made me undergo as a 2 month-old was rather less music to my ears than caterwauling to hers. But flippancy aside, I take issue with the all of the above statements, and I’m going to tell you why.
I was an unhappy baby. I had colic, reflux, and a generally low boredom threshold. My Mum was a perfectionist. She was determined that I would be organic, breastfed, exposed to books and classical music. During night feeds she would put Classic FM on the TV rather than Eastenders. No wonder neither of us enjoyed breastfeeding! Life was hell, for her and me.
Around the age of 6 months I got fussy about my milk. Determined to get the recommended intake of calcium into me somehow, Mummy reluctantly used my obsession with Baby Einstein DVD’s to sneak more milk in at bedtime. Baby Einstein was allowed, because it was ‘proven’ to stimulate babies’ intellect Predictably, this worked, until I got bored with it, and only the Fimbles would do.
By the time I reached 18 months the Terrible 2’s had hit early. I had shocking meltdowns over the smallest thing. They would come from no-where and leave me with sobs in my breath long after the initial catalyst was forgotten. I was a bright baby, I could talk, and understand a little reason. But far from being helpful, Mummy maintains that interaction with my parents during one of these episodes would have actually been damaging to my relationship with them.
The thing that worked? TV. Toddlers having a tantrum don’t need reason. They need TV. I needed TV. I’m a determined girl, and when I have a point to make, I would rather risk the possibility of head explosion than give up my rant. TV provided a distraction, time to take a breath, calm down and forget that I needed to play Ludo right now, wearing my gloves and no nappy. TV quite literally saved my sanity (and my Mum’s) on a number of occasions.
Fast forward 6 years. Am I intellectually stunted? Is my relationship with my parents detached? Am I bored by school, never participating or asking questions? Not really, actually. I read a lot, I get frustrated that I’m not allowed to borrow the Year 6 books from the Library, I goof around with my Dad a lot, and I challenge my Mum’s ideas with the kind of reasoning that sometimes she can’t argue with. Do I watch TV? Yes, I like Horrible Histories – do you know how much you can learn on there? I like Deadly 60, and Scooby Doo. What? You never know when those dastardly plot-foiling techniques might come in handy!
My recommendation is this: television is your friend, use it wisely and it will not damage your child in any way. In fact I can pretty much guarantee that it will help you to create a harmonious home, and a happy child. There is nothing more likely to cause intellectual tardiness than a house full of stressbuckets! There are Mums who stick the telly on because they need a shower, a break, time to deal with morning sickness. There are Mums who have CBeebies on all day; I bet their kids cook a great Alphabet Crunch 😉
Incidentally, when my brother was born Mummy had given up trying to be perfect, and adopted the best parenting mantra I have ever heard of: Just Do What Works (sounds like a parenting manual in the making…). He hated Baby Einstein; he much preferred 64 Zoo Lane, because that’s what I was watching back then. He likes to play the Wii. Guess what? He’s a better than average reader, can chat (almost) as eloquently as me, and hardly ever asks for telly time.
Oh yeah, and I wasn’t breastfed either…
*We have nothing against breastfeeding, and love this post on extended breastfeeding.