Normal service has resumed in our household. Last week my eldest two were on a TV ban. It seemed like a good idea at the time – after all, after the Xbox, the TV is really the only thing they genuinely feel affection for – but it became quickly apparent that the real person suffering the punishment was me. They suffered all the symptoms of addiction withdrawal – TV cold turkey – and spent most of the week kicking random objects (more often than not each other) and saying “I’m bored”. I lost count of the number of times I used those platitudes (which I swore I would never use with my own children as they irritated me so much as a child) – “Only boring people get bored”, “all children have to learn to be bored” and “you have got to learn to entertain yourselves”. In the end, I was as desperate for the TV ban to end as they were.
My children watch too much TV. That’s a fact and I’m not proud of it. I bet if you were honest with yourselves, your children probably watch too much too. It is so easy to use TV as cheap childcare when you have a million other things you need to do. My problem with the TV is not just how much they watch but what they watch. There is so much rubbish out there. My eldest seems to have a particular penchant for wrestling – I am not even going to pretend to understand the attraction but I am marginally comforted by the knowledge that nearly all his friends seem to share this same fascination – presumably it is a boy thing just as watching “Tangled” 15 times is a girl thing. I have tried putting pin numbers on various channels so that he can’t access them but actually this is just infuriating because I can’t remember the pin numbers either and as a result I too am condemned to watching some Disney drivel or worse at the end of a long day.
My children look genuinely astounded when I tell them that we only had three TV channels in my childhood and that we never watched TV in the evenings – just watched children’s hour (Newsround, Blue Peter etc) . They look at me with a mixture of disbelief and pity – “What did you do instead, Mummy” – to which inevitably I resort to the old platitude ” we entertained ourselves’ or worse still “we played board games” (which I’m not actually sure we did really but it sounds good). I think my eldest son thinks that my childhood was actually deprived – he really cannot comprehend such a level of distress and hardship as having only 3 TV channels.
The signs of excessive TV viewing have been there for a while and particularly the effects of advertising. I was reading a bedtime story to one of the children a while ago and written on one of the pages was the word “bang” (door slamming I think) – I said “bang” with gusto and my son replied, deadpan, “and the dirt is gone”! More recently, after a particularly long rant on my part about how lucky our children are, how much they have and how money doesn’t grow on trees etc, my eldest son piped up that he had a plan: put my gold necklace (I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was gold-plated) in an envelope, send it off and I would get cash in return – remember the advert?! If only life was that simple.
One particular gem from my eldest son during coverage of the Royal Wedding last year really made me sit up and consider the impact of excessive TV viewing. We had watched the marriage service on TV at home and then we were going to some friends for a celebratory lunch. I told my boys that we could watch the rest of the wedding on the TV at our friends’ house – my eldest was particularly concerned at missing anything. He turned to me and said in all seriousness,” But Mummy, what about the kiss – will that be in the next episode?”. Now if it hadn’t been quite amusing, I might well have gasped in horror that my son had actually confused real life with TV programmes to the extent that he is unable to distinguish between the two. To be fair to him, he is not alone and in fact there are many adults who seem incapable of separating fact from fiction, TV from real life. The curse of the soap opera baddie is the abuse he gets in the street from Joe Public who has failed to make the fairly simple connection that just because the person in front of him “plays”
X from Y soap opera, he is not actually X.
So what to do? Well, not watching any TV is not an option and anyway there are positives to watching some things and let’s face it, the TV is an integral part of our existence nowadays. I would like my children to watch less and I do think their behaviour reflects the amount of and what they have watched on TV. I think this is particularly true of boys – for example, the wrestling viewing definitely leads to rough and tumble with my sitting room as the wrestling ring (no idea what the terminology should be) and I have to admit to finding it intensely irritating that my son insists on addressing me as “mate” at the moment which I can only assume originated from some trash he has managed to watch on the quiet. Although my children seem to watch a lot of TV and I am always trying to cut it down, I have to remind myself that for the majority of the day, they are out there with their friends or at school or playing sport and a little bit of downtime is a good thing. Actually one of my major problems with TV is not actually the programmes themselves (although as I said previously there is a lot of trash out there) but the advertising on commercial channels to which children seem particularly susceptible – but that will have to be another blog, another time.