In The Night Garden (of my soul)

9 May

Is it wrong to let your toddler watch tv? It depends on what, when, how much and why.

My daughter has watched an episode of the mind-bending weirdness that is In The Night Garden as part of her bedtime routine since she was about 5 months old. We have cuddles in front of CBeebies if she’s unwell, overtired or upset. Sometimes I put it on for 10 minutes to keep her amused and out of trouble while I’m trying to get ready to leave the house.

If the TV is showing cartoons, she’ll stare at it, blank faced and glassy eyed. Programmes with real people or animals are her favourite. She looks engaged, her eyes track the action and she will giggle at appropriate times when she finds something amusing such as people falling over. I love that. I’ve always thought that people falling over is intrinsically funny, and this proves my point. It’s fucking hilarious. My 13 month old says so.

She loves shows with music and singing (although I’m sure sinister things occur in Balamory under the cover of darkness) and she loves Zingzillas (a band of clothed monkeys with cultural musical guests, what’s not to love?).

I try to make sure I don’t substitute TV for parenting, except in emergencies (caring for a 9 month old while suffering norovirus? Bleak.) I try to steer clear of neon cartoons or anything too hectic or violent (I’m talking to you Cartoon Network).

I never watched much TV as a kid and now as an adult there’s maybe 2 or 3 things I watch in a week. Mostly I think the content of our 200 hundred channels is total shit. The programmes I love are few and far between, Homeland, House, Game of Thrones for example.

Programming for littlies has come on a lot in recent years. Cbeebies is a mix of gentle humour, cultural diversity, fun education and lovely storytelling. But, there are shows I HATE. Mr Maker can drive that Makermobile off Beachy Head, Thelma and Louise style, and he can take Mr Bloom with him to his watery grave. Creepy, both.

Nb. Mr Bloom is FAKE NORTHERN. Why? Who knows. But I’m reliably informed that the actor is from the West Country.

Let’s Play is wonderful. Fine humour and educational role play.

The reigning king of CBeebies is surely Mr Tumble. I used to think he was also in the Creepy Bastard category, but now I LOVE him. Justin Fletcher is brilliant. His (many) shows are funny, entertaining, education and inclusive. I’m sure the stigma of special needs is being reduced by him alone. (But, Cliff Tumble MUST be stopped).

And then there’s In The Night Garden. There aren’t enough psychotropic drugs in South London that would enable me to get my head around this crazy land of the bizarre. Yes, babies and toddlers adore this special brand of insanity, and frankly I fear for Derek Jakobi’s mental health. I imagine him in a padded room clutching a pair of Tombliboo trousers. And don’t even start trying to rationalise Makka Pakka. My husband labelled him “an obese alien with a zimmer frame and a penchant for rocks”. As a psychologist, I’ve diagnosed all ITNG characters with some condition or syndrome or whatnot.

Whatever it is, kids love it, and it’s sweet and affectionate. The Wattingers seem to get a raw deal, but hey ho.

I remember the guilt the first time I put my daughter in front of the TV in her bouncy chair. She was 8 weeks old and in the screamy evil clutches of colic and reflux. She calmed down immediately. It made my brain stop feeling like it was going to dribble out of my ears.

As time has gone on, she still likes to watch tv, but will play with toys or people if it’s on rather than just staring blankly at the flat screen. I kind of miss the newborn days where I could sit on the sofa holding her whilst watching a test match. She showed little interest in James Anderson’s pace bowling technique but you can’t have everything.

TV, gaming and the Internet are viewed as negative influences on kids, but exposure to these things is down to parents to control. Kids and teens aren’t known for their self control and the buck has to stop with parents. It’s an adults responsibility to decide what is appropriate and ensure boundaries are set and adhered to.

Kids are drawn to technology like sticky-fingered moths to a flame but they can not be expected to exercise restraint of apply self censorship.

I recently calmed a wriggly screechy toddler on a flight with downloaded episodes of Charlie and Lola on the iPlayer app. It was a godsend. TV has its place and its up to you as a parent to find that place.

Take the little sail down. Light the little light…just don’t think too much about the Wattingers. Poor bastards.


2012-07-04 16.51.59



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