So the BBC are considering cutting several channels, including Cbeebies. I found out about this yesterday morning from a petition on Facebook, which, when I looked again later that day had already gathered 60,0000 signatures from outraged parents.
Cbeebies has played a massive role in my family’s life over the last decade. I’m a bit behind the times now and don’t quite get the whole Mr Bloom fangirl craze, although a few years ago when Chris was still doing the bedtime song, there was a moment where he used to turn the lights down and wink at the camera in a way that was… well, I’ve still got the YouTube clip bookmarked, put it that way. TV is without doubt my kids favourite pastime, and allows me to do all sorts of things like make dinner, or a phone call, or just have an uninterrupted sit-down for 5 minutes. So it’s fair to say that the loss of Cbeebies would be traumatic for our household.
But (and this is the point where I go off-script and part company with probably every other parent in the land) I say bring it on. Because I didn’t go into this parenting lark thinking that it was only going to be tolerable if I had the option of dumping them in front of the telly for up to 12 hours day. If you’d asked me, 12 years ago, what kind of parent I was hoping to be, I wouldn’t have been thinking of leaving my kids mesmerised in front of the TV while I cook and clean and tidy up the toys they hardly ever play with. The childhood I hoped they’d have involved an awful lot more playing with friends, making up games, creating imaginary worlds, falling out of trees and kicking balls over the neighbour’s fence. My kids don’t do nearly enough of that kind of stuff, and that makes me sad. And yes, it’s partly my fault, and a reflection of the world we live in, and certainly not entirely down to Cbeebies. But having the option of up to 12 hours dedicated children’s TV every single day makes it harder for me to give my children the active, creative life I’d like them to have.
*now for the bit where the 40+ parent drones nostalgically about how much better things were in the 1970’s* Well you know what, my childhood was better than my children’s in a lot of ways. Yes, I remember watching the Flumps and Bagpuss while my mum was making the lunch, but there was only a tiny slot for the children’s programmes and then it was either Pebble Mill or the test card, either of which were boring enough to send me off to make my own entertainment. And that was it, no more telly until after school, when you had another hour or so until the news and that programme with Frank Bough. And believe it or not, that was ok. We didn’t throw ourselves rigid onto the floor howling in red-faced fury when we were told tea was ready, the way my children frequently do.
I’ve read a lot of comments from parents today to the effect that, if it weren’t for Cbeebies, they would never have a minute to themselves. There are many, MANY days I’ve felt that way too. But my mum – and I imagine most of her generation -managed to cook and keep a much cleaner house than I do without the assistance of round-the-clock TV, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t follow her round the house wailing “I’m bored!”the way my kids do with me when we try and turn the telly off. In fact, I don’t remember ever WANTING my parents company, because I was so busy playing – either with my friends down the road or just perfectly happily by myself.
Children aren’t empty vessels, waiting passively to be filled up with entertainment. They’re active participants in a three-dimensional world, learning as much from what they do themselves as from what they see other people doing. If our children can’t entertain themselves (with all the toys our comfortable western 21st century can offer) then maybe it’s not a sign that they need to be pacified with TV, but rather a sign that TV has been pacifying them for too long, suppressing their natural instinct to create their own fun.
Recently, as a bad tempered knee-jerk reaction to some particularly bad behaviour from my little darlings, I banned all TV from our house for a week. Once the initial tantrums subsided, it was brilliant. Toys that we hadn’t seen since Christmas were brought out and played with, dens were built and the two of them co-operated together to make their own fun in a way that they usually never do. I was tempted to make the ban permanent, but that would have seemed like a perverse consequence for a week of good behaviour, so the TV went back on at the end of the week, and things went back to the way they were – two little addicts switching the TV on for their fix at every possible opportunity.
Of course, Cbeebies is brilliant, compared to the advert-packed cable channels where you never actually see a presenter or actor in amongst the non-stop animated programmes. Chris and Pui, Justin, Mr Bloom and the rest are fantastic entertainers and they don’t deserve to lose their jobs. But here’s my suggestion: instead of scrapping Cbeebies completely, why not just reduce the hours it’s on? They repeat the same programmes throughout the day anyway. TV at lunchtime and after school worked for my generation, and didn’t drive my parents to a nervous breakdown. Get our children used to the concept of switching off, walking away and entertaining themselves.
I have a feeling that about 60,000 parents are going to disagree with me…