My name is GG and I watch TV…

"Baby watching TV"
Image from Flickr user Roxeteer

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

"toddler throwing a tantrum"
Image courtesy of the Guardian

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.

28 thoughts on “My name is GG and I watch TV…”

  1. So funny. It’s good to hear the child’s perspective. Why is it in the great TV debate no-one bothers to ask them? Isn’t it supposed to be all about them. I mean does mother really know best?? Now that we’ve sorted TV, where do you stand on radio. No-one ever seems concerned about that polluting young minds.

  2. Love the parting comment, a little girl with a brave streak methinks 🙂
    TV schmeevee, always an expert who knows best for all the children in the world.
    My first wasn’t able to crawl but could happily watch a feature length film/afternoon of the box, he’s so intellectually stunted he just finished a first class degree and on the subject of radio am pretty sure NWA and 50 Cent helped him along the way.
    When’s that ‘just do what works’ book coming out?

  3. Good on you. I am so fed up of these stupid debates, why cant we live and let live? If you don’t or do something one way and someone else does it another, who cares? Being a parent is a hard enough job without being criticised by other parents into the mix. Phew… where’s the remote?

  4. Brilliant post. I was on a training course at work a couple of years ago, Molly was only tiny and LOVED In The Night Garden, Iggle Piggle was her hero! I was discussing this with a colleague when one of the guys running the course decided to come and interrupt our conversation to tell me what horrible damage I was doing to my child by letting her watch ANY telly at all! Of all the things I was thinking I was getting wrong as a parent, letting her watch 20 minutes of Iggle Piggle a day was not one of them, in fact this was the least of my worries! Why can’t people just leave parents alone, can we not get anything right??! Being a parent is hard enough without being criticised at every corner! Drives me mad! *rant over* (sorry!) x

  5. Hear flippin’ hear! I only read the headline in the news, not even the full article, and was overwhelmed by guilt. There’s plenty of finger waggling at parents already without (again) attacking the saviour that is tv!!

    • I know! By the time we’ve forced 5 lots of veg into them and done the requisite amount of reading (do you know we’re being told our 7 yr old should read to us for 20 mins, be read to by us for 20 and spend 20 reading alone every day!), denied them sugar and junk food and gently handled all their tantrums without raising our voices, you’d think half an hour of tv would be our right! It’s a flipping necessity!

  6. Oh dear, anyone who say’s TV should be banned has not spent anytime looking after 3 under 4’s…without TV I wouldn’t be able to shower…

    • Precisely! I wonder if he’d prefer that your children were getting out the bleach or climbing the cupboards while your head was under the shower?!

  7. Hoo-bloody-rah! A voice of reason. My DD didn’t watch anything until she was around 18 months. Not a conscious decision, just the way it turned out. Then a trip to her Great Gran’s changed all that and a fascination with CBeebies developed. I did worry for a while about the amount, until several friends with older children uttered wise words. 1. their kids had watched oodles of toddler TV and had grown up to be healthy, well-adjusted, book-loving, ‘normal’ individuals. 2. If you allow them to watch it when they ask for it, rather than rationing it, it becomes something ordinary rather than illicit or special and they lose interest. This has certainly happened with DD. She still watches CBeebies, but she is equally happy to potter around doing drawing, playing with toys, hanging out with me doing stuff around the house. I might add that DVDs and YouTube are also great vehicles for helping my daughter learn French – I ain’t no Gwynneth Paltrow, there’s no banning of English TV, but DD will happily watch ‘Oui Oui’ (‘Noddy’, and yes, we do get how funny the translation is), ‘Maisy La Souris’ and ‘T’Choupi’…

  8. I’m a firm believer in the “do what works” parenting style too, and for me a bit of TV definitely works.

    Of course I don’t sit Ted in front of it and leave him to it all day, but I do use it as a babysitter. If I have to go and cook and I know he’s going to want to come and follow me around the kitchen then I see nothing wrong with putting Something Special on while I get done (besides, we’re Baby Signing so it IS educational anyway! Yaboo!)

    I also think TV can be *really* educational. Horrible Histories has taught ME more about history than anything else in the rest of my 30+ years on the planet! But even with Ted, if we watch TV together and I talk to him while we watch it then of course it’s educational. It’s also bonding.

    I’m inclined to think it encourages creativity too as they see and experience things they wouldn’t ordinarily see and experience. I’d always prefer he got it from books, but we have lots of those too. I don’t see why we can’t do both.

    But, I think the main point now is that this is the twenty-first century. If you try to cut technology out of a child’s life then I think you’re actually limiting them. This is the world they live in and this is the world they need to know how to be a part of.

    Plus, Tinga Tinga Tales is really great.

    • Brilliant comment! You’re so right it’s part of life now and unless they learn it they will be disadvantaged. Plus I had no idea about medicine in the 1500’s before watching horrible histories!

  9. I honestly don’t know how I would have raised babies (and toddlers, and pre-schoolers, and probably older than that when they get there) without television. On many occasions it has been the only thing that has calmed down my grumpy babies. And when I have been forced out of bed at 5am, the last thing I feel like doing is reading stories or getting out the playdough! In fact, at the moment, my son will only eat his dinner while watching something on the tablet. I feel terribly guilty about it, but he’s a fussy, skinny thing, and if it gets him to eat his dinner then I’ll continue to do it. I don’t actually watch a lot of television myself, so I’m hoping that as the children get older I can show them that there are lots of other things to do apart from watch television, but for now I’m happy with the amount that they watch. Everything in moderation.

    • I have to say there have been periods of time where I’ve worried that my children may be too addicted to the television, or the Wii, but it is all reversible – they gain new passions, and their reliance on TV waxes and wanes. They have lots of other interests that we focus on, and all bad habits change with our children 🙂

  10. Agree with you and everyone here on the comments. Everything in moderation including TV is good for learning and certainly good for Mum!

  11. Brilliantly put.
    I agree with the ‘Do what works’ attitude – too many parents judge each other (“Ooh, did you see they gave their child a chocolate button?” or “They let him watch Peppa Pig in the bath, you know”) when actually, it’s just parents doing what they need to do, to get through the day with their sanity in tact.
    My 2 year old watches TV first thing in the morning (while Mummy and Daddy manage to wake up!) and last thing at night, but the rest of the day, she’s out and about having fun. Of course there are days when she watches a bit more than she should, but it’s not going to affect her longterm, that’s just silly-talk.

    • When Jennifer said her son watches tv when he’s eating his dinner, do you know what I thought? What a fab idea! I wish I’d thought of it when GG was 2…

  12. Sensible advice – as always. I try to limit tv and not have it on all the time. Partly because it drives me mad. It’s sooooo useful sometimes though. I think everything in moderation.

  13. Absolutely!! Fantastic post and my two would agree entirely that I am completely boring and they have learnt much more from the TV than me (which may not be 100% true but I rarely argue with Madam) 😉 xx

  14. Excellent post. I think it’s the parents decision what is best for the child. At the end of the day everything in moderation. X


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