TV can’t be too bad if it’s British, right, asks Susan Newham.
It happened so quickly. All it took was one small tantrum and a peculiar looking woman with an unfortunate mouth and the craziest hairstyle you’ve ever seen in your life, singing ‘What’s the story in Balamory?’ Just like that I was doing what I always said I wouldn’t – using the television as a crutch.
I had been struggling again with Finn to change his nappy and feed him lunch, after his midday nap, when I had the brainwave to put him in front of the telly. Instantly Finn transformed from a red faced barbarian set on resisting my every demand, to a sweet wide-eyed little boy who sat quietly as I changed his nappy, fed him a hearty lunch and dressed him in a new outfit. Instead of 45 minutes of torture, this exercise calmly took all of 20 minutes with no fuss at all. Who wouldn’t do it again?
This wasn’t just any television, mind you. This was educational, designed especially for the preschool market. This was Cbeebies. This was British.
Up until this incident I had been closely sticking to the advice I’d read in one of those parenting manuals I seem hell bent on referring to from time to time. It stated that for the emotional wellbeing of your kid you should not expose them to any television at all for the first two years, and then only half an hour a day until the age of 5.
I admit that we’d already cheated by gluing Finn to Barney ever weekend morning at 7am. But apart from that we’d been pretty good about following the advice. But that was before we discovered Cbeebies during a month of living with my folks while we were renovating (just because we didn’t already have enough stress in our lives). Not having DSTV ourselves, I had no idea that such a genius 24-hour parenting aid existed.
And so, for the duration of our stay, I plonked Finn in front of Cbeebies everytime he got niggly and wouldn’t cooperate. About every 12 minutes. We watched Balamory, Pepper Pig, the Roly Mo show and In the Night Garden. Friggin hell. How crazy is that? This particular series revolves around a set of bizarre creatures named Makka Pakka, IgglePiggle, Upsy Daisy and the Tombliboos who spend a large portion of their time screaming through someone’s acid-inspired garden in a Ninky Nonk (a precariously put together train). Makes Tellytubbies look positively pedestrian.
It also happens to be Finn’s favourite and, unlike me, he seems to know exactly what’s going on. The stuff is like drugs. Every time Finn started getting tetchy, I’d simply say the words, ‘Makka Pakka,’ and he would instantly stop what he was doing, his eyes would glaze over and he would become putty in my hands. I did this even when I had no intention of putting him in front of the TV. Just the suggestion of it seemed to hypnotise him into a calmer more cooperative state.
We are safely home now, far from the lure of Cbeebies. And from those highly catchy tunes Finn had gotten the whole family mindlessly singing along to. ‘What’s the story in Balamory? Wouldn’t you like to know?!’ you could hear Grandpa belting out of the kitchen, the bathroom and the garage.
But I miss it. SABC’s YO TV isn’t quite in the same league. It has also made me realise that as we hurtle closer and closer to the terrible twos and deeper and deeper into the murky world of toddlerhood, there really is no knowing what lengths one might resort to in order to keep the madness at bay.
I am reminded of a distant friend who broke all three of her golden rules of parenting in one sentence, when she yelled at her daughter, ‘If you don’t bloody go and watch TV right now, I’m going to smack you!’ The rules were: no swearing, no smacking and yes, no television watching. But she does have three daughters under the age of six. Heaven knows what I’d resort to.Is TV the last resort or your favourite tool? What programmes does your toddler love?
Read more by Susan Newham