Yesterday I was going through some old documents and found something I'd written about toddlers and tellie. I wrote it when I was living in the burbs and pregnant with Una, I think as a letter to the editor in response to one of those: 'My, but how can those evil mothers let their children go near a tv' type letters. I still agree with myself. In Mitcham we were able to get good-ish reception for ABC so Fred watched it. Now we can't so Fred only watches DVDs. Una has so far shown absolutely no interest at all in the television, which is fine because she's got Fred to watch instead (and she's still young enough to play for hours with anything that fits inside something else). Anyway, so this is a kind of lazy blogpost because I'm going to cut and paste it in, but there's more discussion below, since I wrote this over a year ago and it sparked some reflection.
Sometimes I think that in an ideal world, my toddler wouldn’t watch television. In this same world she wouldn’t get sick and neither would I. It would never rain except in a delightful spend an afternoon splashing in the puddles kind of way. I’d have a bigger backyard, a network of friends in easy walking distance and my husband would earn more money so I didn’t have to work from home and I could use that time and energy thinking of delightfully wholesome yet free activities for us to do. Pregnancy would last 9 minutes instead of 9 months and wouldn’t come with nausea, physical discomfort, severely reduced ability to do endless repeats of ring a ring a roses and bone crunching tiredness.
The reality is television is a very useful tool in a parent’s belt. There have been no studies that show minimal exposure to television is harmful. As it happens I don’t watch it and neither does my partner, except for when we watch it with our daughter. She has a small collection of what we consider to be age appropriate dvds. Her favourite, incidently, is not one intended for a toddler audience. It is Travelling Birds, a documentary following the migratory habits of several species of birds. It has fostered an interest in birds which we have followed up through books, activities, discussions and outings. The footage is the result of years and years worth of painstaking and admirable work and I think her interest in the film will lead to a deeper understanding of humankind’s delicate relationship with the earth and of the fragility and yet awesome resilience of life.
Of course this isn’t the only thing she watches. She enjoys the standard kid fare shown on ABC in the mornings and afternoons when we have it on. As a writer I place a great deal of importance in storytelling and through television Frederique is exposed to character, narrative, imagination, language, dialogue…the true building blocks of literacy as far as I'm concerned - stories are the pay off for learning how to read. A love of stories is what makes kids want to read, not the sounding out of individual letters or words. Personally I am not comfortable having my child exposed to advertising but I am sure she will discover eventually that there are other channels. At this time it is my intention to teach her to read advertising with a critical and interpretive eye – after all it’s everywhere, the western world is saturated with it, so it is crucial that she learn how advertising works on a pychological level.
It goes without saying that children need books, activity, intellectual stimulation and fresh air in order to thrive. No child should watch television for hours at a time. But I’ve never yet met a parent who thinks that this is an acceptable way to use of television (or interestingly enough a young child who doesn’t get bored after a relatively short period of exposure). But it has a place, and to make parents feel guilty about using it is arrogant and judgemental and based on inaccurate assumptions.
I'm interested to hear what other people have to say. There's a part of me that's always a bit in awe of parents who manage to maintain a 100% ban on the box, so obviously that part of me believes there's something worthy about no tv, yet I believe myself when I say that there is value and legitimacy in the storytelling and narrative aspects of television. I think we as a society still see television as a "switch on, switch off" thing, as in switch the tv on and we opt out, we switch off. TV time is dead time, we no longer develop or learn. Which is an attitude that comes down from older generations, who saw the television as the death of the book, the death of intellect and imagination, much as their forebears saw the radio. As a product of a tv watching age you'd think I'd give myself more credit than that. Not just 'educational' tv but all tv offers us an experience outside ourselves, an opportunity to examine ideas, environments, values and psyches that are not our own. It brings us in contact with other people, other communities. It doesn't have to be a cheap experience. Take Travelling Birds for example - the richness of images and ideas is truly profound.