For those of you who haven’t watched much children’s TV recently, it has changed. When I was growing up, we were grateful for a half-hour of Bill and Ben or a few minutes of Magic Roundabout in grainy black-and-white before bedtime. Back then, children’s TV accounted for, at most, an hour a day. In between, we were forced to fill in the time by listening to records, playing with toys or watching the test card.
Now, it’s different. Not so much what children watch but the sheer quantity — not only terrestrial channels, but satellite, too. We had Mary, Mungo and Midge but never an entire Mary Mungo and Midge weekend! I worry about how much time my children spend in front of the TV and in particular their absorption when watching.
Lucy, six, stares at the screen with her expression frozen and mouth half-open. She answers anything I ask by pointing to the screen and mumbling Spongebob — it’s the only way you know she has not entered a trance. Meanwhile, at weekends, when they are allowed to eat breakfast in front of the telly, four-year-old Alex can sometimes be found with a spoonful of Shreddies poised between bowl and mouth for several minutes until the adverts.
Luckily, neither of them speaks Greek. I say this because last week I took them to Crete. On the first morning, they asked to watch TV. After a few minutes of searching, we found a bazooki band in full flow, then what seemed to be a German version of Supermarket Sweep, then a local weather forecast, and finally a Hellenic version of Mickey Mouse.
After gamely attempting to follow it for several minutes, they gave up, and began to play creatively — if you can describe an attempt to dismantle the fixtures as creative.
I have been toying with the idea of getting religion for their benefit. After all, if I was more Orthodox, the TV would be off all day Saturday (except for Cup Final day when it would carelessly be left on the night before). Thus, the children would have the opportunity to spend one day a week without TV. Having said that, since returning from Crete, the TV’s stranglehold on their lives seems to have been broken. Instead, they have been investigating which stair is the highest they can jump from; concocting magic potions from water, earth and worms; leaping through the hatch between the kitchen and the living room; and Lucy has redesigned some of her nicest clothes with a felt-tip pen.
All of which makes me wonder whether there isn’t an argument for the children’s-TV-induced catatonic trance after all.