Tuesday 1 May 2012

What's on the soap box?

Competitive parenting doesn’t really bother me. If someone wants to tell me how much time they spend doing educational activities with their kids, honestly, I’m fine with that. If they want to outline in great detail the lovingly created, fresh organic meals they serve up to their offspring, quite frankly, I find it interesting.

But if there’s one thing that gets my goat, its parents who hark on about rationing or even banning television.

Can I get on my toy soap box for one wee moment?

I think children’s television is a GOOD THING. I do not resort to it as a fail. I choose it for my child because, quite frankly, I think most of it is excellent quality and there are certain times in the day when he would quite like to know what the sign for car is (Something Special) how the toilet flushes (Come Outside with Aunty Mabel) and the surprising habits of the decorator crab (Octonouts).

Ok, ok, I’m climbing down off my little plinth now to admit that, yes, in some ways a bit (or even a lot) of kids TV does make life easier. And maybe I am admitting here that quite often I just don’t have it in me to keep my little angel occupied and entertained. The folks over at CBeebies HQ have a lot more in their armoury than me at 4.30pm when it’s starting to feel like a very long day and I am, shall we say, below par (a quivering, monosyllabic wreck).

But, I genuinely think there are a lot of outdated preconceptions about television around, and an unreasonable fear of its power. Yes, my son loves watching his programmes, but he also loves playing outside with friends, going to the park, going to see live theatre, drawing and baking. He spends his summers on a beach and he loves imaginative play with his toys. These activities and television are not mutually exclusive. Goodness knows with a pre-schooler, there ARE enough hours in the day.

I’ve heard some of the most talented, creative people who work in children’s television talk about the negativity they face. Anne Wood, creator of Teletubbies and In The Night Garden was vilified for her efforts at engaging with very young children. But any parent who has watched how these programmes speak so specifically to the pre-speech child must surely see its genius. If it was a book she had written or a toy she had invented she would not face such prejudice. It makes me think that it is all just superstitious fear of the new-fangled television - a hangover passed down from grandparents to parents since the 1950s.

I don’t know if you’ve seen an advert/trailer for the CBeebies programme Justin’s House....it shows children watching the show. Sounds a bit strange? A bit static for an advert? Not a bit of it, because the children are jumping around, shouting and singing along to the programme. And that is exactly what my little boy does when it comes on. So, think about it, really, what is your child getting out of watching television and what are you so frightened and ashamed of? Sing it loud and sing it proud (or mumble it constantly under your breath like a mad person – either’s fine) “Justin’s House, it’s the place you want to be, Justin’s House...”

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