So what if TV stunts young brains I can't cope without my square nanny
22:13 GMT, 10 October 2012
Ever since my 14th au pair stormed out of the house a few months ago, claiming my children were ‘zee vurst behaved’ she’d ever had the misfortune to encounter, I have had to grab help with childcare where and when I can.
Any mother will agree that this is often easier said than done, but I have found the perfect Mary Poppins.
She is stimulating, affordable (I pay only 65 per month), and occupies my little horrors for up to three hours every weekday. She also reports for duty all weekend without complaint.
Watching with mother: Shona and happy three-year-old Dolly in front of the TV
Plus — and listen closely here ladies, because this particular benefit cannot be underestimated — she has a heavy, square-like build, so there is absolutely no chance of my husband Keith fancying her.
Before you all rush to steal my wonderful new nanny from me, I should confess that I am actually talking about a television, not a human being.
So my heart sank this week when I read the warnings of leading child psychologist Dr Aric Sigman, who claimed that by the age of seven, a child will have spent a full year of his or her life glued to the television — with devastating effects on their health, development and well-being.
A year Is that all Quite honestly, I’m a little surprised it’s not longer than that. It would work out at roughly 24 hours a week, and the last time I totted up the number of hours my four children spend in front of the box, I’m sure the total was much higher than that.
Yet Dr Sigman is so convinced that television is A Thoroughly Bad Thing, he advises that children under the age of three should not be allowed to have it on at all.
'If you believe Dr Sigman, letting your children watch television is tantamount to abuse'
Hang on just a minute. Has this man no offspring of his own Has he never attempted to fry sausages with a fractious, tired toddler clinging to his leg Or, indeed, been ambushed so early in the morning that even the birds are still comatose
Because it is precisely occasions like these — and there are many, many more of them — that drive me to pay my TV subscription before any other household bill, and to make sure we always have a spare stash of batteries for the remote control.
The reality is that our three televisions help me remain sane. I am a more organised, better-dressed and calmer mother because of them.
So what if Dr Sigman states that my extensive use of the television nanny could lead to attention problems and other psychological difficulties for my children I know that if I ban my children from their television time, I will be the one battling psychological difficulties.
Keeping them occupied: Shona sees no harm in letting her children watch television (posed by model)
I defy any mother to disagree with me. We might pretend that our little darlings are only allowed to watch David Attenborough documentaries for 30 minutes a week — but, in truth, we plonk them, slack–jawed, in front of Scooby-Doo for days on end.
The reason for this terrible neglect is blindingly obvious: we get more done while the children are distracted.
It’s as simple as that. If you are lucky enough to be able to afford good childcare or, indeed, have a mother-in-law with a penchant for Play-Doh living just around the corner, then good for you. The rest of us have to rely on the airwaves.
'Despite the amount of television I allow my children to watch, they are highly literate, sociable and well-adjusted'
And is this really such a terrible thing Well, if you believe Dr Sigman, letting your children watch television is tantamount to abuse.
Writing in the august medical journal Archives Of Disease In Childhood, he claims that children today are spending more time in front of television screens than they are at school. This has, in turn, been linked to childhood obesity problems, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
My three-year-old daughter Dolly is a particularly seasoned viewer. In fact, she could give the Heads of Programme Scheduling at the BBC a run for their money with her encyclopaedic knowledge of TV listings.
And I honestly don’t believe this has stunted her development. Quite the opposite. She learns Spanish from the bilingual star of Dora the Explorer; French vocabulary from cartoon series Madeline; health-and-safety tips from Fireman Sam; nutrition from Big Cook, Little Cook; and gets endless inspiration on how to be naughty from Peppa Pig.
Any adult who has actually bothered to sit down in front of pre-school TV can see for themselves that most of the programmes aired are, actually, highly educational.
It’s the U.S. sitcoms aimed at children over eight that are mindless and annoying (although admittedly I still let my children watch them, because it means I can get on with other stuff).
Educational: Shona's children have learnt Spanish phrases thanks to Dora the Explorer
I don’t limit their viewing time to the house, either. I have all Dolly’s favourite programmes uploaded on to my smartphone so that when we are in the supermarket doing a huge food shop, she sits uncomplainingly in the trolley, glued to the screen.
I often look at other mothers whose toddlers are pulling bananas off the shelves and causing havoc in the aisles, and wonder why they haven’t latched on to this idea, too.
Just last week it was brought home to me how reliant I have become on television as an effective method of childcare.
There was a storm raging, and a falling branch hit our aerial. Panic suddenly erupted in the living room because the TV picture had gone fuzzy.
As the children paced the house, growing increasingly more mutinous, Keith, in utter desperation, grabbed a ladder and balanced it precariously against the trunk of the offending tree.
No matter that there was a howling gale and driving rain swirling around him. Keith climbed, axe in hand, to the top of the ladder which was swaying unsteadily in the wind.
All I can remember thinking, as I watched my husband risk life and limb, was: ‘If he falls, I’m going to have to call out an emergency TV engineer.’
Despite the amount of television I allow my children to watch, they are highly literate, sociable and well-adjusted. So it comes as some solace that child psychologist Dr Richard Woolfson believes TV doesn’t always have to be harmful.
He says: ‘There is nothing wrong in allowing children to watch a certain amount of it. Problems arise when you let television take over a parenting role.’
Well, I can safely say there is absolutely no chance of that happening. The last time I looked, the television, for all its talents, couldn’t drive, cook or correct spelling homework.
Nor, for that matter, can it hand out plasters — or, more importantly, give kisses and cuddles.