I can’t remember where I read it now, but some advice body or other recommended that children should watch no television at all until they turn two, and that it should be strictly rationed after that.
Allow me to get my self-conscious, pre-emptive parenting defence in. My two-year-old daughter is not allowed to watch television all day, and MUST – for everyone’s sanity, let alone their physical health – do something active every day. Whether it’s a raucous game of hide-and-seek, running up and down the garden, darting around the park or (more usually) all three and then some, she is full of all the rocket fuel of childhood and it must be harnessed and burned. She also reads books. Lots and lots and lots of books. She can narrate the whole of The Tiger Who Came to Tea or Slinky Malinki easily, and gleefully. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But… she does watch TV. Quite a lot of it. And she’s been allowed to watch it since, well, ever. Because it’s on in the house – until now we’ve lived with other family members, so not always by our choice – and because sometimes it can be a blessed pleasure to distract her with some Justin Fletcher creation or other while I have a cup of tea and breathe.
I’m painfully aware that whatever I write is going to sound like justification for being a lazy mum. Maybe I am, at that. I refuse to use the argument of “it never did me any harm” (though it didn’t) because that argument is far too easily used for something that really is against my principles, like smacking or never eating vegetables ever, ever, even hidden in pasta sauce. But, in my middle-class, privileged way, I do worry that by not putting my foot down enough about TV-watching, I might be harming my daughter.
I am selective about what she watches according to my own principles – Small Potatoes, Peppa Pig and Justin’s House yes, anything too pink-and-blue and / or with poor production value, no – and I’m also aware that on the days she’s cared for by older family members she probably watches all sorts because, frankly, they’re tired and need a break from the demands of a toddler. On the days she’s at nursery, I recently calculated, she probably watches a total of an hour of telly; one programme while we’re darting around getting ourselves together and another when she gets home. I also only switch on the television when she requests it (and certainly not every time she requests it), and will invariably suggest a book, building blocks, making train track, drawing with crayons or footling in the garden as an alternative choice.
The fact remains, however, that over the course of the week – particularly early weekend mornings, when one of us is having a lie-in while the other parents alone, bleary-eyed, at 5:40am – she does clock up quite a few square-eyed hours, and she does really, really love the television. And I feel guilty about it.
Despite the all-embracing, wonderful and supportive atmosphere here at Bea, I’m pretty sure there’ll be someone out there ready to tell me that I should. So, I throw down the gauntlet and ask: is there such a thing as too much? Should the TV be off all day, every day? What are the best distractions?
Superparents, it’s over to you.