Children’s TV is probably doing you more harm than your kids
Confession time: as soon as the little Rabs were able I used to put them in front of the TV, surrounded by cushions to keep them upright and I’d leave them there while I went off to do the housework. On other occasions I’d take the opportunity to sit on my arse and read a book while CBeebies baby-sat for me. Am I ashamed? Wracked with guilty and loathing? Not at all. And the wee Rabs don’t seem to have suffered any on account of watching lots of Balamory, Big Cook Little Cook and Fireman Sam.
However an article in the latest Media, Culture & Society (March 2009) suggests that there are more conscientious parents out there who fret that society will view them as bad parents if they are seen to use TV purely as a convenient child-minder. Matt Brigg argues that under pressure from government and aided by public service broadcasting, ‘good parenting’ is increasingly presented in the sort of pedagogic terms that almost demands that a child’s guardian behaves like a professional educator: ‘it is not enough simply to play, and to have a hunch that it is good for your child: as a parent you must know what it is that they are learning, why and how, so one can exploit it to the full’. What’s more, since the government put education at the centre of social policy with the National Curriculum, the Sure Start and Bookstart schemes, child-rearing amounts to nothing less than an exercise in good citizenship that links successful parenting to ‘the future prosperity of the nation, as a way of reversing Britain’s economic decline, of eradicating the effects of material deprivation, to promote upward social mobility, to prevent delinquency and crime, as well as to produce a well-trained workforce, advancing Britain’s competitive position as a nation’. This is quite a lot to ask of harassed parents but Brigg looks at their conversations on a discussion forum hosted by the BBC’s CBeebies website to show just how seriously mothers (and it is mainly women) take their identity as a ‘good parent’. That identity is confirmed, it seems, through mother and child’s relationship with CBeebies because the channel associates itself with current educational policies and discourse. This, Brigg argues, allows CBeebies to build ‘a trusted and responsible brand identity in what is an extremely competitive sector, rather than representing a more high-minded commitment to children’s education’.
All of this, Brigg posits, has less to do with child welfare than managing the problems of being a contemporary mother, beset as it is by conflicting social demands to simultaneously preserve childhood’s innocence and ciricularise it. This he argues amounts to ‘an ethicalization of existence: an ethicalization in which one’s behaviour and one’s conception and presentation of the self are monitored in the terms handed down by the state, the authority of experts and the media’. Sounds pretty chilling. But parenthood is the punishment for having children. It doesn’t come naturally. And Brigg directs us to think about the forces that construct the practice and experience of bringing up children today in ways that can be stressful and distressingly judgemental.
Anyway, enough of this. At the moment the two wee Rabs are in the back garden tied to the swing-ball pole, which they have been running around all afternoon. No TV and plenty of fresh air and exercise, while I put my feet up. Now that’s what I call good parenting.