Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The guilty pleasure of television

There's been much coverage in the news in recent years about the links between children watching too much television and obesity, ADHD, lack of early language development skills, lack of social skills... The list goes on. And of course, as parents we feel guilty.

It's very easy as a parent to feel guilty. We joke about being "rubbish mothers" but how genuine is that laughter? We know that our children shouldn't watch too much television, and when we're expecting our first child, we have all kinds of good intentions. I told myself that my children would watch no television until they were two years old; I would never take them to McDonalds or feed them sausage rolls; we wouldn't have a house full of plastic junk; they weren't going to be surrounded by pink (if they were girls) or blue (if they were boys). How quickly these good intentions vanish into thin air when faced with a long car journey, a hungry toddler and a big yellow M appearing as if the fairy godmother has just waved her magic wand. Or a tired, grumpy child, and a tired grumpy mother who can sit and cuddle up on the sofa together in front of good old cbeebies. And so I soon learned to let go of some of my guilt when it comes to television.

I'm not suggesting that letting your children spend all day glued to a screen is in any way good for them, but at times we all need a break and television is a very easy way of providing us with this break. However to get the most out of television there's loads we can do, grabbing the opportunity for a cuddle being just one of them. Talking to your child about television programmes can help with language skills. Describing how things happened in sequence and how they felt about certain characters or situations are a way of helping your child to develop essential literacy skills which will help them in school. Use a television programme as a starting point for a trip to the library to find out more about the topic, or even to find more stories about their favourite characters. Jump up and dance to the theme tunes (it'll make them laugh at you even if they don't join in!) or act out favourite episodes after watching them. 

I have met families who have banned tv altogether and don't even own a television. While very noble, and in my experience capable of producing children who are academically successful, there is something of the nerd about these families, and children who cannot join in with conversations about the latest episode of Spongebob Squarepants or BGT may find themselves at a social disadvantage.

I love watching television, and I don't want to deny my children the pleasure, but if it can be educational for them, all the better. 

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