There’s a game played by parents; a competition, if you like. It’s not always intentional, or done with malice, but it’s a game that pops up with increasing regularity as a form of parental one-upmanship. The name of the game, for want of a snappier title? Let’s Pretend My Child Watches Less TV Than Your Child (Even Though He Or She Probably Doesn’t Really).
In my limited experience, some parents fall over themselves to stress that their child hardly watches any television at all, as if a few hours in front of the box will have their friends speed dialling social services. In some cases they're telling the truth, and that's their choice. But is TV really so bad? When I think of the things that have stirred Alex’s passions and interests over the years, they’ve usually been based around things he’s seen on the TV or films he’s watched. In short, while he doesn’t watch an excessive amount, it’s lit the fuse of many areas of development.
His current obsession – dinosaurs – was sparked by watching Ice Age 3: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs. He asks to watch the film most days after nursery and can already identify pterodactyls, stegosauruses, and the perennial favourite, tyrannosaurus rex. He’s learned about all manner of sea creatures from Octonauts and knows about silver back gorillas and that baboons have red bottoms from Tarzan. TV doesn’t just educate, it inspires play, too. Mike The Knight is the root of his games of knights and monsters, while he’ll happily impersonate Fireman Sam for hours on end.
At the same time, of course, we make sure Alex runs around a lot, goes for long walks in the countryside at the weekend and plays outside as much as possible. So while I’m not advocating 24-hour-a-day TV, I do wish parents would be a little more honest about their kids’ viewing habits, and stop trying to make each other feel guilty.