Our daughter is 3 and a half years old.
From the start, we were those parents who swear they won’t let their child stare at the TV for hours, using it like a babysitter. To be fair, some days she watches more TV than other days but I think we have managed to keep it at a reasonable level (although as I write, she is watching Frozen on her portable DVD player, with her Peppa Pig headphones).
Today, though, I’ve started to think about what she is actually watching, rather than how much.
Her early TV favourites were fairly typical; Mr Tumble, In The Night Garden, and the acutely annoying Baby Jake.
Bing remains a firm favourite, Rastamouse and Katie Morag fall in and out of favour.
Recently, she announced that In The Night Garden is, “for babies,” and no one was more pleased than I, because it’s just downright weird.
When she started asking to watch Peppa Pig, it confused us because she’d only ever watched CBeebies and Peppa is on Channel 5. Must be the influence of her nursery friends… or perhaps the slightly dopey nursery worker who seems to enjoy drawing the irksome oinker. (Just draw a cock and balls and you’ve basically drawn Peppa’s head. Seriously, try it).
She became obsessed with all things related to this mildly irritating porcine god of small people. As a consequence, she now sometimes watches Channel 5. The Little Princess (which I like because it’s voiced by Jane Horrocks, who like me has a strong Lancashire accent), the new incarnations of Bob The Builder, Fireman Sam (has he always been Welsh?) and my own childhood favourite Thomas The Tank Engine.
The presenters on Channel 5’s kids section, dubbed ‘Milkshake’ are generally a bit more annoying than on CBeebies, and the budget is clearly somewhat lower, but other than that it seems fine.
This morning she was watching Channel 5 and I wasn’t paying much attention to be honest. Two or three programmes came and went, and eventually along came Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
During their first wave of popularity (or as I recall, ubiquity might be more accurate) in the late 80s and early 90s I was around 8-11 years old, ripe for an obsession such as these anthropomorphic reptiles with a ridiculous vocabulary.
Yet somehow I did not succumb; perhaps I was just too bewitched by the beefcakes of the WWF. Not the pandas, as those of you over a certain age will appreciate.
So as a non-fan, I can’t comment on what happened in the original Turtles series and whether the current version reflects it.
Regardless, I found myself more than a little concerned by the level of violence in it.
Concerned for two reasons;
- First the obvious knee-jerk, ‘my child is seeing violent stuff and that could be bad for her.’
- Second, concern caused by the potential conflict with principles that I have in the past fiercely defended… freedom of speech, anti-censorship principles. I wrote an essay on censorship at sixth form college and since then have been a passionate opponent of it, especially when it concerns my beloved music, but I never had much cause to apply these thoughts to children’s television until now.
There seemed to be, by the standards you’d expect on kids TV, some pretty vicious stuff going on in this Turtles episode.
Some villainous type was hurled against a wall, there were assorted weapons and my wife said she’d seen another baddie have its head removed.
In short, I immediately resolved to make sure that the small one does not watch this again. Thankfully she’s not grown especially attached to it so there won’t be any issues with that.
Not like if I tried to take away the bacon-sandwich-in-waiting; we would need the UN peacekeeping forces.
There are two obvious arguments that scream ‘you’re overreacting’ in my face.
- First there’s the fact that Turtles is clearly not aimed at 3-year-olds. Fair point, but she was pretty engrossed in it.
- Second there’s the ‘never did me any harm.’
I’m as much proof of that as anyone – I’m perhaps the least violent or aggressive person you might ever encounter and I watched wrestling and played games with violence in them (Mortal Kombat anyone?) and I loved He-Man which probably had some violence in it.
Then there are the cases like that of Tiffany Eunick, a six year old beaten to death in 1999 by a boy of 12 whose lawyer argued that his actions were influenced by TV wrestling.
Perhaps the fact is that you just never know how children might be affected by the things they’re exposed to.
For now, though, turtle will remain off the menu. Anyway, they’re like surfer dudes aren’t they? Surely they’re not the violent type?
Oh yeah, I forgot the ‘ninja’ part.
What do you think? Is our kids TV too violent?