It seems to be one of those issues that nearly all parents that I know struggle with. How much TV do we let our children watch and, for parents of older children, how much time are children allowed to spend playing video games etc…? TV watching is certainly something that is a consistent live issue in our house, and is likely to be for many years to come; and it is not something that is new. I remember that many of my school friends were not allowed to watch commercial TV at a time when children’s programming was on for only a couple of hours a day, something that seems very tame against today’s media choices for children.
Over the years there have been many reports and (oh the irony) TV programmes about how much children should or should not stare at a screen, whether it be a TV or computer (and the differentiation is becoming less all the time); and the internet has brought what seems to be yet another layer of worry to the already fraught lives of parents.
The alternative to this often seems to be that we must entertain our children if we are not going to allow them their electronic fix, which is where I found a story on the BBC website to be of great interest. It reported on work by Dr Teresa Belton of University of East Anglia’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning, who argues that boredom is not the negative issue that it is often made out to be because out of boredom can come our most creative moments.
I can see much sense in this argument since I have certainly found inspiration during times of inactivity, most notably when I spent six months in bed after a back operation in 1986; and in the months between my redundancy and the beginning of my coaching course last year. In both cases a complete change of direction in my life occurred and I regard them as very creative times in my life.
Now I am not suggesting that we submit our children to anything like that level of inactivity, but that we should sometimes resist the temptation to see the alternatives as being either ‘watching’ or doing something with Mummy or Daddy. Yes it may be boring: but boring can lead somewhere.
As I am thinking about this I realise that we saw something of that last Sunday afternoon. We had just come back from being outside in the freezing weather, we were all very cold, and I for one was certainly not wanting to entertain any further trips outdoors. All I wanted at that moment was to defrost with a hot drink. The boys were hankering after some TV and did not seem to be in the mood for anything else, when up popped the suggestion to get the Play-Doh (other malleable putties are available) out. An hour later the boys were still playing, occasionally involving us in their game and serving us Play-Doh food (Jake, apparently, was the Sous Chef). They played nicely together and were very creative.
Only time will tell whether reading about Belton’s research will change the way I parent, and there will always be times when it is easier to switch on the TV than any of the apparent alternatives. Nevertheless, thinking about it will make me less afraid of the ‘b’ word, and I will try to get the boys to embrace their boredom in the future who knows what they may create as a result.