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'The telly is the most effective, reliable and cheap form of babysitter known to man'

Telly is powerful stuff – for both parent and child.

SOME STUDY CAME out a couple of months back that said that kids who watch more than three hours of television a day are more likely to be obese and hyperactive, and to have emotional and behavioural problems. I don’t know why we need a ‘report’ to tell us what we instinctively know already – that too much TV is bad for anyone.

But, then again, perhaps in this day and age, we need doctors, and scientists, and PhD graduates, to verify what our own common sense already tells us. Otherwise the lazy, bad parent in us all could be forgiven for taking over. Because, let’s face it, the telly is the most effective, reliable and cheap form of babysitter known to man. And before I ‘switch on’, and watch the kids effectively ‘tune out’, there are a number of old reliables, which I invariably wheel out to myself by way of justification.

  1.  I’ll just let them watch one episode. Which in the history of motherhood and mankind in general has never, ever happened. Partly because it’s not physically possible to empty a dishwasher, put out a wash, or have a shower in the time it takes for Peppa Pig to have one of her outings. And partly because the elixir of having just a few uninterrupted moments to yourself is one of the most powerful and addictive drugs known to man (ie just one more episode and I’ll finally have this kitchen clean).
  2. It’s ‘educational’. Pffff… I’m flushing with embarrassment even as I take this thought out of my head and onto the page. “But no, seriously Claire” my lazy alter ego counters, “Think of all the valuable life lessons they have picked up courtesy of the flashing box in the corner. ‘Sharing is caring’ (one of the first, and most important values for any toddler, particularly if there’s a sibling en route). Practical nuggets of safety advice which will stick with them forever more now that they have watched one particular episode of Fireman Sam circa 500 times. And who could forget the ultimate in toddler positive affirmation, ‘Can we fix it? Yes We Can!’. “What could be so wrong with that?”, my alter ego counters. Just as I realise that I’ve long since finished cleaning the kitchen, and have somehow managed to find myself indulging in a bit of online ‘me’ time…
  3. They need a rest. Some ‘quiet time’. A little ‘break’ after a busy day in creche, school or Montessori. Or better yet, some ‘convalescence’ in front of the telly, as whatever the latest illness to accost our house gradually slinks away. Yes, a bit of telly won’t do them any harm at all. Conveniently ignore the fact that my reading a book to them would probably have much positive long-term effects to their speech, their vocabulary and their relationship with their mother. But then, much as we mothers can multi-task, I’ve yet to meet one who can simultaneously cook a nutritious meal, whilst also reading the ‘Gruffalo’.
  4. If I collapse on the couch between them, and ‘oooooh’ and ‘aaaah’ at appropriate junctures, sure doesn’t that qualify as ‘quality time’ with them? I mean, really, what’s the difference between actually visiting the zoo, and just watching it on the telly? Warmer, cheaper and infinitely less publicity for the inevitable tantrum that follows Harry the Hippo’s disappearance under water (… the fact that I may sneakily manage to check my email once they’re sucked in is beside the point).
  5. It has a 90% plus success rate for deflecting tantrums. It’s almost my default now as and when lips start to quiver, and little brows furrow. Which it clearly shouldn’t be. But I tend to panic as they gear up to lose the plot entirely. Find myself uttering the immortal words ‘Bob the Builder?!’ before I realise that they’re even out of my mouth. Because, as a strategy, it is pretty much foolproof. Far superior, in my own humble experience, to trying to reason with any two-year-old child. Many’s a ‘More, more, more!’ has been successfully deflected by the production of the remote.

Apparently the average amount of time spent by a three year old in front of a telly in this country is 112 minutes. There now, ladies and gents, consider the gauntlet thrown down for one and all. Are you above, or below?

I’d say that purely courtesy of the fact that my kids spend large amounts of time in the care of someone other than myself, I’m probably mercifully below average (so long, you understand, as we are averaging out the whole week. They tend to binge watch of a Saturday and a Sunday, having been on the ‘dry’ all week, with only very limited capacity for units of a midweek evening).

After our two toddlers recently discovered Peppa two weeks ago, I joked (kind of) with my husband that we should just give up the crèche fees entirely, and leave them in front of Peppa for eight hours a day. They were transfixed. Glued to it. Literally. I could have danced naked in front of them wielding their favourite blankie and giving teddy a piggy-back and they wouldn’t have even blinked. It was truly amazing. Instantaneous calm descended on the house. And remained that way so long as piggy was on the TV.

Yes, it’s powerful stuff, telly. For both parent and child. It’s just hard to know when to stop…

Claire Micks is an occasional writer. Read her columns for here.

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