Like most parents of small children, I have a love/hate relationship with television. Sometimes it’s my saviour and best friend. Other times it’s my tormentor and worst enemy. It’s also a medium that is guaranteed to get me whipped up into a question frenzy. Does my kid watch too much TV? YouTube – is it bad for kids? Is Fireman Sam sexist? Is Blaze a cheat because he gets a driver when none of the other cars do?
All of the above are valid queries. All of them have rattled around the brain over the last few weeks. And all of them have the potential to be boiled down and answered with one word (Yes/No/Maybe). But where’s the fun in that?
I want to give each of these telly related topics the respect, and word count, they deserve. Which is why I’m going to answer one of them per week for the next four weeks. Excited? You should be, because kicking this opinion-splitting TV Qs blog mini-series off is the biggie that is: does my kid watch too much TV?
How much TV is too much TV?
According to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, children under the age of two should not enjoy any screen time, and the limit for kids aged between two and four is an hour a day. According to a quick poll of my Twitter followers, very few parents come anywhere close to meeting these targets.
But what about me? Where do I stand on this debate? Simple. I stand in a seated position on my couch, man spreading, burping occasionally and pressing okay on the TV remote over and over again. Just kidding.
For the first year of my son’s life, my wife and I proudly stood with the WHO. Screens were out, and books, toys, nursery rhymes and general baby-entertaining tomfoolery were in. It was exhausting, but we made it to the 12-month mark without my son visiting the Night Garden or having any idea that Peppa Pig or the Twirlywoos existed. And then, for some reason or other, we broke. Slowly but surely, the big screen monster began to creep in to our daily schedule.
Fireman Sam was the best way of keeping our son seated long enough to eat his breakfast. PAW Patrol was a guaranteed way of keeping his butt on the chair in a restaurant. Noddy stopped him whining when he was ill. Television had become an extremely helpful part of our lives. Just a small part, though. We were 100% definitely undoubtedly going to make sure he didn’t watch too much TV. Because, you know, we weren’t THOSE parents.
The present situation
Fast-forward two-and-a-half years and barely a day goes by where my son doesn’t watch at least an hour of television. Judging by my Twitter poll this is far from unusual. And judging by his speech, motor skills, problem solving and reading, it is not hindering his development. So, it’s not a problem, right?
Wrong. It’s actually a three-part problem. First, the more TV my son watches, the less happy he is about it being turned off. Second, we can struggle to get him to sit down and eat a meal without the carrot of television. Third, it’s proof that I’m becoming a lazy parent.
The rules of engagement
Note: “lazy parent” is a personal view of myself, rather than a blanket criticism of mums and dads who let their child watch more telly than the WHO says they should. Parenting is difficult, tiring and often infuriating, so I get why some parents regularly reach for the remote, I really do. But I also appreciate that I am lucky enough to be in a position where I don’t have to.
Yes, my son enjoys TV, but it’s not his be all and end all. He also likes books, toys, card games, dominos, board games and ridiculous challenges that daddy has invented. If my wife or I put something in front of him and make it seem exciting, then he will engage with it. Disappointingly, we’ve not being doing this over the last few months, and it leaves us with a choice. We can keep making excuses (tired, busy at work, pressured by life etc. etc. etc.), give in, give up and let TV do the parenting for us. Or we can pull our fingers out and get back to being the hands-on parents that we want to be.
Obviously, we’re going to do the former. Only joking. Mission TV Reduction began this morning and I’m pleased to report that breakfast one went well, with a game of Snakes & Ladders, a couple of The Greatest Showman duets, much LEGO, a few rounds of Fireman Sam Uno and absolutely no television. Was it more tiring than a TV-powered breakfast? Yes, a little. Was it more rewarding? Yes, a lot.
Until next time…