We have recently enjoyed a lovely visit from Granny and Grandpa. It was a trip full of firsts, my Dad even tried sushi, though only managed the vegetarian version, but at least he gave it a whirl – and didn’t even use a knife and fork. He experienced another first during his stay, being a passenger in the car whilst I was driving AND on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, I’m sure his foot found the imaginary brake a few times. As it was her third trip over my Mum is practically a local but she still managed to tick a few ‘to do in Canada’ boxes. After sightings of racoons and chipmunks she spotted the big one on her Vancouver safari – two black bears, one minding his own business whilst mountain bikers whizzed by in Whistler and the other nonchalantly poking his head above the barrier at the side of the highway. However, another aspect of their trip caused uncontainable excitement with the boys – Granny brought her IPad, for two blissful weeks they had access to one each. Their sheer delight was irrepressible and by the time my parents left they had developed quite a habit. Fearing serious withdrawal symptoms I went for extreme measures and instituted a post Granny and Grandpa’s Visit regime which involved cold turkey throughout the day with just a small hit of IPad action morning and evening. But why do I feel so bad about the boys having too much screen time? I have diligently loaded the IPad up with suitably educational apps such as Hairy Letters and when they get their hands on the computer they love Usborne’s Teach Your Monster to Read and Nina’s Engineering Playground on Cbeebies. Perhaps I’m worried that they develop a taste for gaming that will lead them onto the hard stuff in their teens.
It’s the same with TV. Mothers at the school gates are constantly nervously sounding each other out. Do you let your kid watch TV? How much? It still seems to be the ideal that the ‘good mums’ are the ones who don’t let their kids watch TV at all (or at least say they don’t). Whenever the boys have a bit too much screen time – like when I’m trying to clean the house, make a delicious home cooked meal, have a shower, wash my hair or do anything that involves having a sensible and uninterrupted conversation to another grown up human being on the telephone, I feel the creeping mum-guilt setting in. Though after nearly a decade of working in television (a significant amount of it making children’s programmes) I feel totally torn, I often think surely it can’t be THAT bad. What is it that makes us feel so guilty as mothers? Is it lazy parenting? Is it because watching TV is seen as inferior to reading books? If I’m being honest I think there’s a place for both, I read to my children every day, I have even been known to put on voices and ‘do characters’ (well I’ve got to put that drama degree to some use) but sometimes TV really does bring stories alive, even I would stop short of getting out whimsical puppets to teach my children about infection control or sing a song of verrucas as Dr Ranj so gamely does on ‘Get Well Soon’ (Cbeebies).
We don’t actually have a television set, though I’m always quick to say I’m not one of THOSE mums. I don’t walk around in hemp shoes and give the boys odd home hair cuts. My children are web savvy and can find their way around Netflix as well as anybody. I remember a meeting a few years ago at the BBC when they predicted that soon all TV would be on demand, we thought it unlikely, but in just a couple of years here we are, no need for a TV or cable (and a total avoidance of adverts which definitely can’t be bad).
The answer must be everything in moderation, I remember at school bonding with friends over the previous nights TV but now as a mother in a world where television is on demand I feel a real responsibility to monitor exactly what my children are watching. I would hate for my boys to turn into two pale nocturnal monosyllabic TV obsessed Kevin and Perry’s in their teenage years but similarly would be mortified to have spawned a pair of socially inept, awkward children similar to those Russell Brand terms ‘nan-kids’. As a Brit I’m still a big fan of the astounding CBeebies. It recently it came into it’s own when we were able to use an episode of one of their shows, Woolly and Tig (a great programme even though the protagonist looks slightly anaemic and seems to exist solely on a diet of fish fingers and potato waffles), to help the boys understand about the death of a beloved family dog, we didn’t feel the need to cop out and say ‘she went to live on a farm’ they saw Tig dealing with a similar situation, being sad but realising that that is ok. (In Canada you can find some Cbeebies shows on Treehouse, Knowledge Kids and BBC Kids – bbckids.ca)
Educational BBC programmes are one thing though I nipped an interest in Power Rangers in the bud sharpish as Casper’s games took a distinctly ‘fighty’ turn and I’m not in a hurry to give in to his pleas to watch ‘Kung Fu Dino Posse’, it’s tricky, he even went through a ‘spitting like Pingu’ phase.
So, my kids watch TV, (there I’ve said it, I’m out and proud – fellow mums join me), but they also make dens, bake with me, splash in the ocean, build sandcastles, jump in puddles, read books, climb trees, sing, dance, paint, make kites from sticks, scoot and skate and ski, run and jump and play. On the days when they pretend the rocks they have found on the beach are walkie talkies and have long drawn out conversations into them or when I say they can take a toy to playgroup and they choose to take in their favourite potatoes I am content that I haven’t ruined them with technology (I’m worried that they are a little odd but nevertheless) on other days I’m not so confident, but I suppose that is one of the hazards of being a 21st Century mum.