Saturday, 19 July 2008
For the first two years of her life, Berry watched almost no television. When she turned two, I patted myself on the back for devotedly following those American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines – and then I dropped the ball.
I didn't drop it in a huge way – more a series of fumbles, really – but over time she acquired a taste for Dora The Explorer, Clifford The Big Red Dog, Blue's Clues, The Mickey Mouse Club House (she actually thinks Mickey's real name is Mickeymouseclubhouse), JoJo's Circus, Elmo (not Sesame Street, just Elmo), Little Einsteins and Curious George. She even liked My Friends Tigger and Pooh, much to my chagrin; I despise Disney's inane, dumbed-down version of Winnie-the-Pooh.
Almost all Berry's television fare was on PBS Kids (educating and enlightening, right?) except for What Not To Wear, which was entirely my fault. "I like her pretty dress, mum-mum," she'd say after the makeover, and I'd change the channel guiltily. Can I help it if I want Clinton Kelly to be my best friend?
She was also completely excited by the merchandising. Everywhere we went: "Oh! Dora!", "Ohhhh, Kigger-Pooh!", "Oh mum-mum, see that Mickeymouseclubhouse!" She wanted every item emblazoned with their images – beach towels, play-doh, shoes, placemats, colouring books. She'd even try for the banned Disney Princesses. I dodged indulgence by letting her "say hello" and then put them back on the shelf... a winner on the avoiding tantrums front, but it sure slowed down our shopping trips.
Two weeks ago she saw Dora, Nemo, Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse in a single supermarket display. It stopped her in her tracks. "Oh!" she shouted, "My shows!"
In that moment, I realised exactly how far we'd slid down television's slippery slope.
I've always wanted my kids to have their childhoods filled with wild imaginings, inventive play, exciting books, hare-brained schemes and little adventures, the way mine was. My brothers, my sister and I had very few toys and even less TV – no tricks, nothing on a silver platter, my Dad would say. But we had a lot of wide-open spaces, unscheduled afternoons, and parents who were pretty sure we'd survive if we fell out of trees ... the perfect environment for imagination to take root. I knew it would be harder for Berry to need her imagination, surrounded as she is by toys and activities, and doting grandparents ready to make her playroom overflow at each visit. So why was I making it even harder for her, by giving in on the TV front?
Over the past ten days, I've gradually deleted almost every show from our DVR. I've offered more book-reading, more tea parties, more paints, more tricycle rides, more playing with her wooden tools. When there's TV, we only watch Jon & Kate Plus Eight (because it's about kids her own age, and it never gives her that glazed look) or Charlie & Lola (because it's clever, and they have British accents... seriously, that's why).
Berry's let go of "her shows" much more easily than I expected. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that my Mum, who is the most meant-to-be-a-brilliant-grandma person I've ever known, is here entertaining and adoring her... but whatever, I'm grateful for an easy start to the transition.
I know this not-much-TV policy is going to take real long-term effort, and probably more tea parties than I'll care to have – but I'm pretty determined. Because in the end, I think allowing her imagination room to grow is one of the best gifts I can give her.