In defence of Children’s TV
People give TV such a hard time – it’s making children dumb, fat and unsociable. But I think otherwise. Children’s TV has helped to shape who we are today, and I predict new forms of children’s media will do so for future generations.
‘I’m ten years old. TV is my life.’ So said Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York when asked by the Bell Boy at New York’s Plaza Hotel if he knew how to work the television (duh!). That line pretty much sums up my ten year old self. Now I must make it clear that I wasn’t one of those kids that grazed in front of the box at every possible moment. My parents would diligently plan after school trips to the park and weekend excursions to museums and galleries around London. In fact my first encounter with art was Damien Hirst’s Mother and Child Divided. I didn’t get what the cut in half cow was meant to mean or represent, and I vocally declared this much to the amusement of my father and several art critics.
TV I got. I used to love sitting in the armchair, nestle down and enjoy a programme or two from CBBC, CITV, or a choice of Disney and fantasy films. I still have my recoded video tapes (yeah-I’m getting old) of The Never-Ending Story, Labyrinth, The Goonies, and Edward Scissorhands that were constantly played, rewound, and played again, much to my older sister’s despair whose taste was more along the lines of Neighbours and Home and Away. My now quite useless video collection (my VCR broke in the summer of 2006) would not be complete without a few shows from good old Sesame Street. Do you remember when Luis and Maria got together in the Fix It Shop? Or when Bert lost his paperclips. What about when Kermit the Frog went to investigate the London Smog? TV moments I’ll always remember. I even have a tape with a CBBC panto of Jack and the Beanstalk starring the Chuckle Brothers (appropriately renamed Jacks and the Beanstalk).
Now I know there are thousands of parents who abhor the idea of their children watching the telly They will no doubt rant and rave that TV stunts the imagination, lowers reading levels and turns little cherubs into anti-social coach potatoes. I think most mothers and fathers have given up telling their offspring that watching too much TV will turn their eyes square – kids are much too intelligent for that. Besides they’d probably think it’s be cool to be square-eyed – they might get a part as an extra in Doctor Who.
I was the only child in my Year One class that could recite the alphabet without doing so in a sing-song voice! I gained a taste for silly joy and impromptu singing by watching Live and Kicking on a Saturday morning. Thanks to characters such as Peggy Patch and Why Bird from Play Days, Elmo and Grover from Sesame Street, and Cosmo and Dibs from You & Me letters and numbers were never a bore, but always fun.
Children’s media has come on leaps and bounds since I was a nipper. Computer games, You Tube, social networking sites, and other forms of digital media are rapidly increasing. Instead of fearing them we should embrace how they’re shaping children’s social and educational worlds. Children’s media can be magnificent – it can move, educate and inspire.
I wish I knew what it felt like to be a child in the midst of all the new formats of media. I know I’d be less timid to try new things like have a go at posting my own children’s show on Vimeo or create an online zine for teenagers. I do feel a little out of the loop on what other media formats are out there for children. So, at this conference I’ll be seeking out what’s new in the world of children’s media, how it’s evolving and how I can join in the fun.