Do tellyless children play more?
Recently I agreed to a Census interview. When I mentioned that my children didn’t watch commercial television the interviewer’s eyes lit up. Could they be questioned separately, so rare was it to speak to children who hadn’t been influenced by commercial television?
A questionnaire duly arrived, causing my son and daughter to chew on their pencils, as if faced with some kind of weird homework. Pages and pages of questions about magazines and foods and television programs they’d never heard of. After ten pages of questions, there was only one question that they could tick a YES for – ‘Do you consider yourself happy?’
What the Census never probed was what my children did spend their time doing. Did they stare at the space in the sitting room where the plasma television should be? Or did not having commercial television give them time to do the kind of things that the men and women who wrote the Census probably spent their own childhood doing?
A lot of fuss is made about children no longer playing in the street or climbing trees in the park. Much less fuss is made about their not being able to play at home either. So many children can’t play on their own. Of course they need toys, and parents who are interested in playing. But much more they need to just mess about on their own, and to find out what really interests them in a dilatory way.
So why has this incredibly simple thing, of children playing, become so elusive? My hunch is that unhurried children need unhurried parents. You can’t have a slow childhood if you have fast parents. I’m as guilty as the next mother. I find it hard to pull back on activities and to recognise that ‘having nothing after school’ is a wonderful resource, rather than a gap in need of filling.
I’ll finish by listing what I love about not watching commercial television – without, I hope, sounding too Julie Andrewsish. I love walking round our house and not hearing the television streaming by a nearby room. I love watching DVDs without having to fast-forward through the ads. I love tuning our television off when a program has ended, without being tempted by whatever is to come. I love that my children have got through childhood without witnessing the twin towers collapsing, bombs going off in Iraqi Market places, or Sudanese mothers carrying malnourished babies. But most of all I love going into one of their bedrooms, arms full of folded washing, to find one of them on the floor, quietly playing. Or perhaps sitting with legs curled under them in a corner of my study, cutting something like this house from a piece of paper.