Last week I commented to an expectant lady with toddler-in-tow, how – at the end of my 2nd pregnancy – I was so super-huge and knackered that it was a nice excuse for me and my toddler, Rafferty, to watch films together in the afternoon. She replied “Oh we don’t do that. My son doesn’t watch TV.”
To which I thought… really? You poor thing!
Now I know I am meant to be all boho-intellectual-middle-class about it and pretend that my sons don’t watch TV either. That we don’t even have a TV because we just read books and play games all day… but this just isn’t true.
My husband and I did spend a year without a TV while we lived in Berlin about 5 years ago, and you know what? We missed it. While we raved to friends who came over about the virtues of no-TV, we secretly spent evenings crack-watching Boxsets on a Laptop – squinting at the small screen.
Since my son Rafferty has been old enough to sit still and be absorbed by TV, I’ve let him watch it. Not all the time, but when I need him to. The day I downloaded In the Night Garden to my iPad and it transfixed a shed-full of children waiting to board an EasyJet flight made me realise TV’s magic powers.
These days I measure time in TV programmes. I know that I can load the car during a Pingu (5 mins), I can get dressed in a Chuggington (10 mins), I can make dinner during Postman Pat (15 minutes) while Peppa Pig Back-to-Back buys me whole hour and switching on Cars or Wall E - makes me giddy with an hour-and-a-half of uninterruptedness or buys me a breather to focus on 9-month old Max – aka The Fox, instead.
Meanwhile if I’m out of the house and need to occupy Rafferty for a stretch – say, while I’m in an appointment, or we are on a train – I pass him my iPhone and he watches programmes on there. Likewise I’d never do a flight without an iPad. It’s not like Raff watches TV all the time, or depends on it, or I use it as a crux. I am pretty militant on his daily quota.
But at the same time I love TV for the childcare it brings me! It is a dependable hour or so out of my day. It allows me to do things without my beautiful boy talking non-stop and wanting me to play with him, because if I did that all the time we would never, ever leave the house.
But it feels like like we’re all meant to pretend that TV is bad. If you Google ‘babies or toddlers watching TV’ you’ll discover that tots-watching-the-box is far & widely condemned under the age of 2. But, I don’t know a mother (except this lady I met at the group) who doesn’t let their child watch TV, and who doesn’t benefit as a result.
With a little TV children benefit too, for them it’s much-needed downtime and it improves imagination and vocabulary. Rafferty started telling me about ‘Ted Glen’s Spectaular Leaf-Blowing Invention’ the other morning. That is impressive vocab for a just-3-year-old… c/o Postman Pat!
Now OF COURSE, I know exactly why these TV-watching-guidelines are in place and I don’t wish to belittle the impact too much TV can have on kids. A huge amount of this country’s children are slumped in front of the TV and are lacking in stimulation and exercise as a result. OF COURSE our children should play outside. OF COURSE they shouldn’t watch too much. OF COURSE they shouldn’t zone out in front of TV instead of having real-life playing and interacting experiences. OF COURSE.
As with all things in life, I believe in the Greek adage ‘Everything in moderation.’ A little bit of TV won’t irrecoverably harm my sons. Neither will the fact that The Fox is already watching it by default, because he happens to be in the same room.
I watched so much TV when I was a child that I still remember the phone number to call into Going Live. In case you wonder, it was: 01 811 8181. I don’t think it harmed me. I could be wrong. But I sure as hell spent enough time on my bike to offset it.
And I guess that’s the point, as long as it is balanced with good-old-fashioned-fun and other-fine-outdoorsy-stuff I think that TV is not only okay, but good for all concerned. It’s how we use it that counts. So let’s all stop feeling guilty about it or trying to pretend that we’re above such things.
Because I for one, am not.