“How many ‘nas’ are in Batman?”, a 6-year-old girl asks my eldest son. His response: “???”
“Sixteen! Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na BATMAN!”, she laughs.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who is Batman?”, his answer. She stops laughing. Not quite sure whether she should believe him or if it’s him making a joke now.
You see, my kids (and often my wife and I) get this a lot. We meet people in playgroups or on playgrounds and too quickly just one topic becomes the centre of the conversation (well, that is after grown-ups have exchanged their opinion about the weather): The Television. And everything related to it: programmes, films, news, sequels … From there most dialogues roll like this:
“Ah, have you watched this or that last night?… NO? Oh, you missed something good… I really wonder whether Charlie will marry Sue in the next episode?… Ah, the game show was quite boring this time, far too easy, I knew all the answers… Do you have the big Sky package? …No, Netflix, I see… Yes, cost a lot but it’s worth it …”
UK children watch an average of more than two and a half hours of television a day and spend an hour and 50 minutes online a day. In total more than four hours a day in front of a screen. Are we really surprised that our offspring struggles more and more with problems like hyperactivity, obesity, social interaction, problem solving and the like?
About twelve years ago, before we had children, my wife and I made a decision: let’s get rid of our TV watching habit. So when we moved in together we decided NOT to buy one in the first place. The good news is, we didn’t miss it at all. Life was busy and we spent our nights with seeing friends, going out, playing board games and making love.
When our first child was born life got even busier. With some sleep deprivation and the general chaos most new parents experience, we couldn’t care less about what’s on TV.
Life went on, the children got older, and we had more time in the evenings. Still, we never missed TV. Instead of digital boredom, we rediscovered board games, good books, chatting on the sofa or just going to bed early (yes, really does help with those early morning starts!)
Our children survived seven years without TV so far. And I would say they do pretty well. Yes, they know what TV is and yes, they sometimes watch some (educational) stuff on YouTube & Co. But, and that’s the difference to me, they don’t hang around in front of a screen just to kill time or to get brainwashed with buy-everything-you-don’t-need ads. Their screen time is about 2 hours. A day? No, a month. On average. Nearly no screen over the summer but usually a bit more when it’s cold and dark in winter.
Yes, our children don’t know most super heroes or cartoon characters. That’s fine. I believe they haven’t missed anything. Instead of watching ever repetitive plots, they spend time climbing trees. They have no desire buying the latest merchandise “as seen on TV”, but use their pocket money for motors, solar cells and wires to build electric boats. Their games aren’t about the good or bad guy – stories unfold by imaginary play and wonder.
No, I’m not totally against screens or TV. That would be too easy. But I just remember my childhood and early teenage years. I watched TV. A lot. When I was seven or eight, we only had a few channels but that didn’t stop me from watching it. Even if it was boring or the tenth re-run of something, I had to see it. And I remember too well the moment when I had watched all night, feeling tired and a little empty and wondering where my evening had gone…
No plans for tonight? Leave the telly off. Get a good story book out and read to your kids. Or invite some friends and play a board game. Or just chilling on the sofa and listening to your children’s adventures? It’s up to you.