Do your kids watch more TV than you did when you were their age?
I grew up in the 70s and 80s and I watched a fair amount of TV throughout my childhood and teens. However, having only three or four terrestrial channels meant that it was never that difficult to tear myself away from the screen and go and do something more interesting instead. When I left home I moved to London and spent 4 years studying there. I had no TV and I missed it not at all. My husband, Nick, had followed a similar TV less path so when we got together the idea of getting a set simply didn’t even cross our minds.
Eventually we did end up getting an old TV to watch DVD’s on (ok, videos… we are that old!). Then the kids started arriving, first Leila and then Edward. Still, we did not feel the need for a TV, sure we had some kids DVDs (my all-time favourite –Finding Nemo and my most detested – Barney the dinosaur) but that sufficed for screens. Tablets and smart phones were still things of the future so they were not part of the equation we had to work with.
Then in 2004 I became pregnant with twins and suddenly getting a TV licence seemed like an incredibly good idea. I was going to be breastfeeding twins whilst looking after a three and a five-year old – I was going to need all the help I could get and if some of that help was from a screen, so be it. So after a 16 year break I got back together with my old pal, Mr TV.
Hello Ceebeebies – you saved my life.
Due to their incredibly limited exposure to TV I could plonk Edward and Leila down for a TV stint each time I needed to breastfeed. They were glued, hooked and mesmerised by Ballamory, Big Cook Little Cook and my absolute favourite, Charlie and Lola, but more importantly they were stationary and safe. I also invested in a swinging electric chair and a play pen to safely ensconce the twins away from 3 year old Edward, who could be rough with them at times. Mr. TV could keep an eye on everyone in their segregated living room positions whilst I quickly cooked the dinner or nipped to the loo!
The TV helped. I was pretty disciplined. There were time limits.
The TV was for times when I needed the kids to be safely occupied whilst I couldn’t fully supervise them. It was also used quite often when I was in a state of exhaustion and we all just needed to curl up on the sofa and watch a film together. This backfired once when I decided we would watch an Asterix and Obelix DVD. It turned out I had a got a French version. It’s possible that if Edward was not autistic I would have just suggested that we find another film to watch but I knew that he was very much looking forward to watching this particular DVD and that he would not be able to handle a change of plan very well at all. (Making changes at short notice if you have an autistic child is rarely a good idea). At the time the twins hadn’t learned to read yet so only Leila , Edward and I could read the English subtitles. Instead of semi consciously slumping in front of the TV I found myself doing a fairly poor voice over for our favourite French Gauls, and all for the benefit of my pre literate littlest ones. I have to confess to doing a bit of eliminating and censoring of some of the content, much to Edward’s consternation. I was more ehausted by the time the film had finished than I was at the start but I never made that mistake again.
In 1995, Hart and Risley, published some groundbreaking research looking at the language that 1 to 2 year olds were exposed to. They found that there was a direct correlation between the number of words a child heard and the number of times the child’s own vocalisations were responded to with a child’s vocabulary development, language skills and even IQ scores, years later. To put their findings very simply: Talking to and with your young child a lot of the time every day, day in and day out, is really important for their language and cognitive development.
For some of us, talking to young children doesn’t come naturally, even when they are our own. It can be tempting to keep a child happy (quiet) though allowing them to use a screen but if this happens at the expense of our direct communication with them, then perhaps it’s a good idea to limit that screen use and save it for those essential Mr TV moments.
As my kids have got older we’ve allowed them more time on-screen.
We’ve used screen as a reward. When they were all at primary school, once everyone was breakfasted, washed, dressed with shoes and coat on and book bag in hand, they could sit and watch the TV or go on the computer before we left for school. This motivated them to monitor and chivvy each other along as the TV/computer could only go on when they were all ready. We’ve also used screen when they just need to spend time alone unwinding after a day at school, but with time limits. We have had fights over what those limits should be and I suspect we are not the only family who has had fights over this. I’ve written a bit more about Edwards increased use of screen as a pre-teenager in Screens and Slang.
Leila tells me that it would have been a disaster if I was a teenager now – apparently I would be at the more extreme end of screen addiction – I hate to admit it but I think she’s probably right.