It's a personal choice, and one that is a lot easier to make when you’re a single parent with one child, I know. But the result was Flea didn’t watch TV at all until she was almost four, when I bought her a few films on DVD, which she’s free to watch when she chooses. I've written before about how being a no-TV household worked for us.
The funny thing is that TV isn’t part of Flea's daily routine so she rarely asks to watch a movie – we can go for weeks without turning on the TV at home. But sometimes we do curl up together to watch a movie, and it's something we really enjoy.
Away from home, though, I’ve been more relaxed. I taught Flea that different families do things differently, there's no one right way of doing things, and I never wanted Flea to feel TV was ‘bad’ or ‘forbidden’. So she has seen TV if it's been on when she's visited friends' houses or stayed with her grandparents.
In the past couple of months, it’s become abundantly clear that my parents have started to let Flea watch some of the channels for bigger kids rather than just CBeebies. I know this because I now get to have conversations like this with my five-year-old:
“Mummy, are you cleaning the floor?”
“Are you using Flash All in One?”
“Erm, no. It’s just floor cleaner.”
“You should use Flash All in One, it makes your floor all shiny.”
We’ve also had this conversation:
“Mummy, please may I have some pyjama pants?”
“PYJAMA PANTS. They’re from Dry Nites.”
“Flea, they’re nappies. You haven’t worn a nappy since you were three.”
“No, they’re for big kids and they keep you dry all night.”
What’s fascinating about this is just how unquestioningly Flea absorbs those messages and how she can parrot them back at me, days and sometimes weeks later. She spent five minutes today telling me that she can ‘swish’ her hair just like the woman on TV, and she can point out Cheese Strings in the supermarket and tell me "they're just cheese".
Honestly? It concerns me.
I don’t like that my child is so receptive to these brand messages. I’m not sure she really understands my explanations about editing and how people deliberately shoot commercials to make things look more fun and exciting than they really are. If I try and tell her that commercials don't always tell the whole truth about a product, she looks confused. I suspect my words hold little sway against bright colours and cute logos and catchy jingles.
Part of me is inclined to solve the problem by asking my parents not to allow Flea to watch commercial TV at all until she’s old enough to truly understand the fakery and manipulation – and I’m sure they’d be fine with that. But I don’t like imposing my rules on their household; it doesn’t seem grateful when they’re helping me out with free babysitting.
How do you explain ads to your kids?