Telly and experts

By | January 1, 2008

My mother drove herself demented trying to stop us watching telly. Sad to say that Dallas provided a rare example of TV bringing harmony to the house. The Saturday night ritual of the family sitting down to watch the stupendous soap was followed by her occasional attempts to say the rosary. My memory, whether it can be trusted or not, is of us laughing and shrieking our way through Dallas while the rosary tended to break up in a row.

She was a rarity in those days : a working mother and nothing could be more certain to inflame her than returning to the house after her day to find a bunch of lazy, useless offspring slouched in front of the box. I look back and think; we only had RTE1 and RTE 2. What were we watching? Bosco? She made a few valiant efforts to break us but I think we broke her. She confiscated the aerial but we improvised and stuck a wire hanger in the back of the telly. Then she cut off the plug but we just put the wires straight into socket. She resorted to locking the set into her en suite. A mere lock wasn’t going to stop us and we diligently searched for a spare key and triumphantly retrieved it. Of course, we were always caught since she just felt the set and its warmth gave us away. Finally the day came when she struggled out to the car carrying the telly and went off to work with it in the boot. That one foiled us, so technically she won, but since we were convinced she was completely insane I fear she really lost.

Of course, on becoming a mother these desperate struggles of a parent to influence their children acquire a new perspective. She was trying to make us better people, but was it worth it? Which was more destructive : our devotion to television or the war conducted over it? And did it any of it ultimately matter? There were five children in our family and each one of us have turned out ostensibly successful if carrying our own little bag of unique neuroses and habits, some good, some bad. Would more or less telly have made a difference? Perhaps it was to our benefit but would it have made her happier if she’d learned to ignore the tv watching? Or has she the satisfaction of looking back now, confident that though it went unappreciated at the time, she was right.

Parenting has become both religion and science and every day produces a new bunch of supposed discoveries that assure us that whatever we’re doing with our children is wrong and will have dire consequences for them when they grow up. Their main effect is to alert me to the existence of a problem about which I had been blissfully unaware. Some new food crisis, the dangers of too much discipline, the threat of not enough, an obscure health problem or the crushing of the all-important self-esteem.

My biggest fear is that my boys won’t cough up for the nursing home charges as they’ll be too busy blaming me for their problems.

Among the armageddon like scenarios predicted by parenting experts is that children who watch too much television will turn into twitching, illiterate, isolated zombies with attention deficit disorder.

This is a bit of a problem for me since despite the best aspirations I’ve ended up actively encouraging my two boys to watch the box : they’re doing a good three hours a day in front of it. When the surveys come out, I search for evidence that this isn’t so very bad but can’t find much consolation. We have one television and its not hanging over the mantelpiece. Other than that, it appears their viewing habits are just the sort of thing to send the experts into paroxysms of concern.

I’m tired of worring and fretting though. So I’ve decided to do what my mother might have been better off doing : give up.

I’m uncivilised before 9am and the only way I’ve survived is thanks to the gift of early morning children’s television. I bring them down at 7am, turn onCeebeebies (no ads) and leave them supplies of toast and milk. Then I sneak back to bed and will myself back to sleep for another hour or until they get bored. There’s more telly intermittently during the day, after dinner and often during dinner. I know its bad but right now Postman Pat is a promise of fifteen minutes when I can do my jobs without having to answer to the persistent cries of Mammy, Mammy. The dye is cast so I’ve developed a defence against allegations that my methods will destroy them.

There are only a few truly definitive predictions one can make about childhood and its link to successful adulthood. Chief among these is the necessity to be born into money. Relative wealth dictates that the child is healthy, well educated, lives longer, stays out of prison and in employment. While it won’t ensure they’re happy, it’s a pretty good start. Since I had the great sense to be born middle class, marry middle-class and thus bear a child into middle class, it looks like I’ve already done the single most important thing to give my children a good shot at life. I’ve thrown in optional extras like breast-feeding and proximity to an extended family. At this stage I reckon everything else has marginal benefit and comes at the cost of exhausting my nerves. Every time I feel utterly useless as a mother I think about the rows over television and wonder what really matters.

What my mother also claimed and where the experts agree is that children are born with their inherited traits. After that the order in which they are born and the influence of their peers are the factors most influential on a child’s long term personality. I can’t help the order in which they were born though I can try to relieve the elder one of too much responsibility : the classic burden of the older child. I can force please and thank you’s upon them and teach them they are worth loving, but other than that I’m happy to accept my influence is limited and all the parenting techniques in the world don’t matter.

I have just two children and their personalities are completely opposed. One is instinctively generous, the other stashes his treats. One goes to bed perfectly every night, the other has to be chased around the house. I refuse to believe that over-exposure to Nick Junior can undermine or overcome any of these characteristics and thus affect their future happiness. On the other hand, choosing to let the telly issue slide might affect my current happiness. So my New Year’s resolution is to make myself happy and keep up the lie-ins but without the guilt. The funny thing is that some of the experts say that a happy mother will have happy children so maybe the wrong thing will turn out to be right in the end.

18 thoughts on “Telly and experts

  1. joan mcfadden

    You’d need to be careful, Sarah. What is or isn’t excessive tv is debatable but leaving your two young children unsupervised while you sleep is wrong. If Social Services were called, the children could be taken into care. If you ever split with your husband, a Judge who was shown this would view it very negatively and your husband would probably get custody. If you think I am wrong, try to imagine how you would feel if you had a babysitter or childminder who went to bed and slept for an hour.

  2. Paul Murphy

    I think even adults should be fully supervised while watching RTE. Prolonged exposure can be very damaging indeed.

  3. Sarah Post author

    die is cast…you know I was driving somewhere yesterday and it suddenly came into my head that I’d used the wrong word…I must check and see if they fixed it in the ST. Bad enough that I’d make the error 😉

    why are the separated fathers using female names on the comments?

  4. CG

    They think you’re so simple-minded as to view their comments more favourably if you think they’re coming from a woman. Sure the reason you don’t agree with them couldn’t possibly be due to their silliness and paranoia as exemplified in “Joan”‘s comment – you just hate men. Admit it!

  5. tom

    “leaving your two young children unsupervised while you sleep is wrong”

    I don’t think this is so wrong. in fact, how is it preventable? small children are able to wake up and get out of bed on their own you know.

  6. tom

    “Bad enough that I’d make the error”

    avoid this issue by using the original Latin. “alea jacta est”. If I had my way people who didn’t use the original latin would have their kids taken into care.

  7. sam crea

    Is this some sort of lesbian seperatist movement. (please dont take offense if it is) Or are you all just taking the piss. I often watch reruns of Dallas while my six year old carries out tasks such as mowing the lawn and clearing the drains..
    He is a good lad.

  8. Jim Jones

    “Why are the separated fathers using female names on the comments?”
    Joan just happened to use my computer as she doesn’t have one herself but Sarah jumped to the conclusion that the comment was made by me because it came from my e-mail address. Thank God she’s not a Garda.

    Anyway, Sarah, you failed to address Joan’s point which was that “leaving your two young children unsupervised while you sleep is wrong. How would you feel if you had a babysitter or childminder who went to bed and slept for an hour?”
    Maybe it’s ok for a middle class married woman to leave her children unattended while she sleeps whereas a single mother in a council estate would be criticised from on high if she admitted to lazily returning to bed while using the telly as a childminder. That reminds me of a similar argument made when the McCanns left Madeline unattended before she was abducted.

    Tom, you said “I don’t think this is so wrong. in fact, how is it preventable? small children are able to wake up and get out of bed on their own you know”.
    Are you serious? Have you never heard of baby gates or baby listeners? What happens if there is a fire? What happens if one of the children chokes on his breakfast while the other one is at the toilet?
    Accidents happen to children all the time while being supervised because parents make mistakes or just take there eye of the ball for a moment but to return to bed and sleep while two children are left on their own beggars belief. If you disagree, just call the duty Social Worker in your local health centre and ask their opinion.

  9. Will


    Yes that is wrong. Snooze on the couch beside them, that way thought the eye is off the ball, you’re ready to spring into position :)

    What happens when they discover the internet? Actually that might be better.
    Imaging a laptop (with wireless access) being used by the pair sitting beside you pressing all your buttons.

  10. Andrew Lawlor

    Sarah, don’t let the bastards get you.

    Until I became a parent I was my father’s harshest critic. Gradually, over the last last eight years I have come to realise that the only right way to raise your kids is the way you choose to do it, and my love and admiration for him and what he did has grown ever since.

    All families are different and all move to their own beat. I can look at my brothers, my sister or my friends as they raise their kids and time and again I hear my inner voice telling me that I would not have made the same choices for my kids. And yet, when I look at those same kids they are happy, contented kids who are growing up in a safe and loving enviornment.

    Yes, we can look at extremes. We all know that blowing the smoke from 40 cigs a day down your kids lungs is very, very naughty. Also, we would all frown at the woman who told her daughter that she did not need to thank the stewardess on the plane because, ‘She comes with the ticket, honey.’ (That one really hapened!).

    Between the poles of ignorance and arrogance most people shove please and thank you down their kids’ necks, beg and plead with them to eat their greens before threatening physical violence, encourage them to get involved in sport or drama or dancing or some kind of sociable activity. Some people smack their kids and some people don’t. Some people would like to see you in court if you did. Some people allow sweets and chocolate, some force vegitarianism on five year olds, others induct their kids into religious belief of which eight year olds in white dresses have no understanding.

    There are as many different ways of raising kids as there are parents. None of them are completly right but few of them are completly wrong.

    The ones that really worry me are those who insist on telling other people how bad they are at it. Some people on this site, who know very little about you, Sarah, and nothing at all about your two boys, have decided that you are a bad parent. Well, heaven save from those kind of gobshites.


    PS. Please do something on Vincent Browne’s column about Bertie in the Irish Times this week. I miss the Crewser something rotten.

  11. Hugh

    [extra-pedantic]Actually, as everybody knows, the original was not in latin. GJ Caesar quoted Menander in greek as he crossed the Rubicon, not latin, and said something like Ἀνερρίφθω κύβος'[/extra-pedantic]

    Still, I’d agree that basic latin is enough to prevent them being taken into care. I presume, Sarah, that you are making them watch re-runs of 1970s Open University programmes while you catch up on your beauty sleep.

    Seriously, though, it’s a tough question. What happened in the days before baby monitors? I suppose extended families provided free and available child minding (and you do note that you have your extended family around you in lovely Co Meath, do you not?), or was society merely more accepting of accidents and misadventures?

    Ultimately, as Andrew Lawlor said, it’s up to you. Before having a wee sprog ourselves, we’d have been much more judgemental too. You might just be better off without ‘full disclosure’ in the Sunday Times 😉

  12. tom

    Jim Jones, I don’t know if you are a real person or not, but I’d love to hear how a baby listener or a baby gate stops a small child getting out of bed and playing before their parents wake up.

    are you suggesting all children under twelve sleep in cages with their hands tied behind their backs?

  13. Sarah Post author

    Thanks to the suppporters!

    Couple of things.
    1. We have the house well child proofed. Sockets locked, cleaning chemicals, sharp objects and breakables out of reach. My husband does fear that the younger will pull the telly down on top of himself BUT my insurance factor here is that the older one is extremely cautious and screams once the younger guy even thinks about getting up to mischief. Outside the garden shed is locked, there’s no water (a big fear – a pond or fountain or something) and the back is fenced off from the front (no car turning knocking over child situation) and the electric gates mean no running out onto the road. I think we’d pass a health and safety check.
    2. I am firmly against over-supervising children. Remove obvious dangers and see what happens. So for example, I taught them from an early age how to climb up and bump themselves down the stairs and got rid of the stair gate once they began trying to climb it. My attitude was : show them HOW to do things early so they can get independence and know how to do it right for the one time you do have your back turned.

    So far so good, no trips to A&E, no stitches. Which are all perfectly normal childhood events. Jaysus, you should have seen us bang around the farm as kids….anyway, the point is: teaching children independence, responsibility and trust are good things. If anything ever does happen I’ll be the one blaming myself and won’t need anyone else to do that for me.

  14. Jim Jones

    Now, now, Tom, where did I suggest that “all children under twelve sleep in cages with their hands tied behind their backs?” We’re talking about a boy under five and his younger brother. A baby listener or a baby gate won’t stop a small child getting out of bed and playing before their parents wake up but the gate will keep them confined in an area that is much easier to make completely safe than a kitchen and back garden and any accident that might happen can be heard on the baby listener.

    Sarah has still not addressed Joan’s point which was “How would you feel if you had a babysitter or childminder who went to bed and slept for an hour?”

    Sarah says “my insurance factor here (her husbands fear that the younger will pull the telly down on top of himself) is that the older one is extremely cautious and screams once the younger guy even thinks about getting up to mischief but did not address my point “What happens if one of the children chokes on his breakfast while the other one is at the toilet?”

    I agree with Hugh when he says “You might just be better off without ‘full disclosure’ in the Sunday Times”.

  15. Sarah Post author

    na, i’d just be better off without agenda-obsessed humourless contributors to this blog.
    You’re the reason I want to give up blogging.

  16. Jim Jones

    I posted a comment earlier but it must have got lost in cyberspace. It was hardly censored!!!
    It basically pointed out how Sarah claims contributors are “agenda-obsessed” if they don’t agree with her or challenge her views.
    In relation to her remark criticizing “humourless contributors to this blog”, I questioned if this was a blog or a comedy club.
    In reply to her statement “You’re the reason I want to give up blogging”, I suggested that she go ahead if she wants but not to blame it on anyone else.

  17. donkykemore

    Have you considered Prozac or ECT or both.
    I just ask.
    Why do you torture yourself with this diatribe . Maybe its therapeutic for you.
    I would suggest a week at Glenstall Abbey for the many crosses you bear.
    The monks , you will find have a high tolerance to ADD ,ADH , bi polar mania .
    Its a mixture of abstinence, contentment ,and metaphysics.
    Alternatively you could get a life coach – they seem to be quite an industrious and diverting profession.
    Yoga .. deep breathing .. theres quite a diversity of options .
    What do you suppose Rosin Ingle does – ? Eat ?
    I know a Kerryman who says If I felt any better I couldnt stick it at all, and he neither has interney nor does he read the Sunday Times.

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