My kids have hijacked our lovely 55-inch LED TV. There's always something on ABC 4 Kids or their Wiggles DVDs. The only time I get to watch something half-way decent is when they are asleep (thank God for Masterchef!). If 'normal' TV is on when they’re around, it’s a constant challenge to find something suitable.
Last Sunday, B switched on the TV (as one might do on a Sunday). Osama bin Laden's death was all over the news – change the channel. The movie channel had a couple in tight lip-lock – change the channel. Video Hits had the GreenDay video ‘Holiday’. Should be alright, we thought. “Look at those cheeky girls,” remarked Caitlyn, “They are slapping their bottoms when they dance!” Change the channel.
When we became parents, B and I decided that our kids would not be sitting in front of the idiot box until they were two. But Caleb came along when Caitlyn was just 20 months. The only way I could feed Caleb without Caitlyn getting in the way was to turn on the TV, the very same idiot box we swore we wouldn’t use, for every feed, every three hours! TV became my saviour. Today, I console myself saying they're watching children’s programs – surely it can't be all bad?! Last week, Caitlyn said, “Caleb’s made a humungous poo!” You guessed it – “humungous” was the Word on the Street on Sesame Street that day.
But when I was a kid, television didn’t hold sway over our lives. Kids definitely did not wield control over the remote control. If mum and dad were watching a movie “cassette” on the VCR and a romantic or *gasp* remotely sexy scene came on, we had strict rules: “Close your eyes,” we were reminded. Not even a kiss was allowed. Of course, we tried to sneak a peek through our spread-out fingers that were supposed to be shielding our eyes from 'the pleasure of the flesh' – gahhh! Watching an A-movie – where the 'A' stood for all things Adult: adultery, avarice, alcohol, anarchy – was unheard of...
And what about on-screen violence? And my brother and I overdosed on Tom & Jerry cartoons when we were growing up. In fact, when we were in India last Christmas, he gifted Caitlyn and Caleb a boxed set of their finest chases and capers. Almost 25 years on, I watched transfixed – this time, with one (anxious) eye on my kids as they reacted in glee to Tom getting out-foxed by Jerry again and again – graphically getting bashed to bits by the bulldog (Spike), a frying pan, TNT, an anvil, a rake, and even facing the guillotine...
Did this make us maladjusted misanthropes? Aggressive adolescents? Not by a long shot. You can't blame TV for all the sex-drugs-violence issues our kids face. It's what happens after the TV is switched off that makes a difference. I’m all for actively choosing what my children can and cannot watch on TV (while I still can!). But I’m also aware that as modern-day parents we can often try to be too “PC”.
So let’s take a step back and give our kids the credit they deserve. Let them ask questions and make up their own minds. They do know the difference between the real world and animated make-believe, between exaggerated, comic violence and the hatred and hysteria that populate our reality. They understand without us parents having to explain every nitty-gritty detail. So stop wrapping them up in cotton-wool – and take back your control over the remote control!
What programs did you watch on TV while you were growing up? How do you regulate what your kids watch on TV?