Never mind Blue Peter. Should kids watch TV at all?
Research, from several sources, has shown that exposure to TV in early childhood damages children’s brains. My colleague Martin Hickman surveyed and summed up the evidence in the Independent two years ago.
It’s alarming stuff. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends no TV at all for children under two. And a New Zealand study has shown that the damaging effect continues right through childhood and adolescence. It suggests that the less time children spend watching TV, the more likely they are to succeed at almost everything in education and life.
So I approach with caution the news that Blue Peter, which first aired in 1958, is now to be tucked away on CBBC and lose its time-honoured slot on a terrestrial channel. It has always been a worthwhile programme, of course. It was one of the few things which we allowed our children to watch in the 80s – along with so many millions of others that it used to be part of the nation’s consciousness. But they weren’t babies or toddlers at the time and we watched it with them and joined in – a crucial point.
Giving children their own channel and funnelling everything they might like to watch on to it is likely to mean that more and more children access TV programmes, far too many of them absolute rubbish, on sets in their own rooms or via computers.
They do this largely unsupervised. And while they are locked into such solitary activity they are not talking to or learning from adults. As Sue Palmer points out in her 2006 book Toxic Childhood, they lose out socially, developmentally and educationally. Children simply do not learn from adults canned on TV as they do from flesh and blood ones in everyday life. And junk TV is as much of a problem as junk food.
While some programmes were still aired en bloc on mainstream channels – the final vestiges of what was once called ‘Children’s Hour’ first on radio then on TV – there was some chance that families would watch together or at least that parents would monitor their children’s viewing. The BBC’s latest cost-cutting decision is the final death of that concept.
It could be, of course, that Blue Peter has outlived its usefulness. I suspect many of the people romantically waxing lyrical about it on Twitter and elsewhere this week haven’t actually watched it for decades. It has been cut to one episode a week for some time – shown first on CBBC and repeated on BBC 1 on Fridays. According to BBC viewing figures 93% of the target audience now watches Blue Peter on CBBC and sometimes fewer than 1000 people watch it on BBC 1.
What I’d like to see (it won’t happen, but I can dream) is some fresh, cutting edge, informative, high quality new programming for pre-teens which doesn’t rely on cartoons, loud noise and gimmicks and which families could watch together – just for half an hour or so - via the family home’s communal set on a terrestrial channel.
As it is, forcing all their programmes into the televisual equivalent of a ghetto, will mean that more and more children will simply retreat from family life into a virtual world in which technology is at best a poor, and at worst a dangerous, substitute for human interaction. And standards of behaviour (don’t start me on the scandal of the Ritalin forced into children to control it) and educational achievement will continue their inexorable slide.
Yes, I concede that there is probably a place for a bit of carefully chosen TV in the lives of children, once they’re well past toddlerhood. But it should be a very minor one.Tagged in: Blue Peter, cbbc, children, children's tv, learning, television, tv
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