Why Flea doesn’t watch television

Kids tv I’ve got a confession to make:  my child doesn't watch television.

But here's the thing: I never set out for Flea not to watch television. I'm not one of those parents who will only feed their child organic Quinoa and ethically-sourced dried fruits. Honestly, I've nothing against the odd packet of chocolate buttons. I'm normal (relatively speaking).

It just happened.

When Flea was born, I had to go back to work very quickly, because me and The Father were both self-employed. Rather than put a 9-week-old baby into childcare, we hired a part-time nanny who looked after Flea for three days a week.

Of course, the nanny NEVER watched television because she was being paid to entertain my child and divert her with enriching activities and educational trips out. On my two days off with Flea, we tended to be out and about, too. On Thursdays we went to Little Dippers and on a Friday we tended to meet up with NCT friends for lunch and playdates. Weekends we spent exploring the many pubs with lovely beer gardens across Sussex, as I recall (recommendations available on request).

So it was that we got to Flea's first birthday and she'd never watched television. And it didn't seem like it was particularly worth my while introducing it at that point. But it's interesting how often I'm asked to justify or explain my choice – it wouldn't occur to me to say to someone, "So, Harry watches In the Night Garden every day. Do you think that's wise?" 

For me, the fact that Flea doesn't watch TV has nothing but upsides. She doesn't nag for branded clothes/food/comics in the supermarket. She's developed the ability to make a game out of almost anything, and entertain herself for hours at a time, without me needing to be involved. She's much more likely to chatter to me while she's playing – she doesn't slip into the 'telly trance' that so many kids seem to when they're at home. I don't have to drag her away from things to have dinner or tidy something away.

But most importantly of all – our policy means I don't have to watch kids TV. I really, really hate kids TV. Not proper kids telly like Stig of the Dump and Press Gang, of course. But that sort of TV that someone somewhere once thought was a good idea to invent for under 5s. You know, things like Teletubbies and Tweenies and Waybuloo, which Papa et Piaf brilliantly described as "computer-generated cuddly toys doing yoga (I shit you not) and speaking
about feelings in what some coke-addled media graduate imagines to be baby talk

Watching that stuff is like Chinese water torture for me. If we visit friends, and the TV is on, I have to stop myself from gnawing the sofa in frustration. Let me tell you: Justin from Mister Tumble is NOT "weirdly attractive". He just looks attractive in comparison to those two monkeys from Big Cook, Little Cook. And the day you find yourself eyeing up Mister Maker is when you, too, should turn off the television. For your own good. 


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. Emma K
    14th October 2009 / 11:25 am

    Hello Sally
    I’m so sorry for posting an unrelated message on your new post but I can’t seem to find an email address for you. Think I must be being a bit daft but have had a wee search and can’t see it anywhere.
    Would you mind sending me your email address as I’d love to run something past you.
    Thanks so much! Emma

  2. 14th October 2009 / 11:27 am

    It is staggering how many friends are shocked by the fact we have a child who doesn’t watch TV simply because we have found more interesting things to do; rather than because we are driven by a puritanical hatred of the modern world.
    The luxury of a family living room with no TV plus an adult living room with a TV (where we can stare like zombies with a glass of red wine once sprog is in bed) helps of course.

  3. Sally
    14th October 2009 / 11:49 am

    Emma, I have mailed you!
    @Chris – yes, it is surprising how shocking people find it, and I do find people tend to think it’s some big philosophical choice reflecting your unconventional views – but for us, really, it just wasn’t a big deal. It just sort of happened that she prefers other things.

  4. 14th October 2009 / 11:50 am

    OK, so we watch more than our fair share of the Tellybox in our house, and I’ve become weirdly obsessional about CBeebies over the past 4 years.
    We’re not usually big Justin fans (especially not Something Sinister), but his new show, Gigglebiz is much better. For a long time, we couldn’t convince DTE that Justin and Mr Tumble were the same person. She’s still not absolutely certain that all the Gigglebiz characters are Justin too.
    Unfortunately, DTY quite likes Waybuloo. Agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments above.
    As for Big Cook, Little Cook- the BBC, faced with a presenter choice of a) Experienced Chefs b) Experienced TV Presenters or c) Out of Work Northern Comics, obviously plumped for the latter with inevitable results. I’ve been quite concerned for the mental well-being of Big Cook Ben for some time now. With one customer per day, times are tough for him. He looks like he sleeps behind the counter in the cafe, has developed a maniacal laugh and has delusional thoughts about a little helper chef.
    Bring back Balamory, all is forgiven.

  5. TheMadHouse
    14th October 2009 / 12:55 pm

    Well done on the no TV. I think this gets easier as they get older. I try and limit TV time to early mornings and dinner time, but TBH I am not too bothered, as I know that they are not glued to the box!!!
    Both the Mads would rather be outside than inside watching telly and hopefully this will continue until the darlk nights set in!
    All things in moderation is what I say

  6. 14th October 2009 / 1:32 pm

    God I’m impressed. We don’t do that much: BBC breakfast in the morning and CBeebies after tea (when PD is pretty knackered and incapable of much other than vegging) which means the agonising Way-bollocks but slightly hypnotic ITNG. You know you are in trouble when you hum the theme tunes to yourself on the commuter train…….
    Maybe I should adopt your policy?

  7. S.
    14th October 2009 / 2:19 pm

    Hmmm. You seem to know an awful lot about CBeebies for someone who claims never to watch it. I suspect you sneak secret peeks while Flea as at school and you’re supposed to be on deadline.
    Anyway, Mister Maker has WAY too much makeup. For fancyability I’m going with 3)The Captain from Space Pirates (sans mad outfit) 2) Either the guy who sings the Fireman Sam theme tune, but if he turns out to be a dud, possibly that Welsh comedian from Doodle Doo 1)Sid.
    (Why the Face? ;-p)

  8. 14th October 2009 / 2:31 pm

    OOH heck – mine do and I have no problem with those that don’t. I just have an annoying SIL who makes it a virtue in the “I’m a better Mum than you” stakes and it drives me potty! People raise their children differntly that’s all and just because it is different doesn’t mean it’s wrong – unless of course you’re my SIL! 😉

  9. 14th October 2009 / 3:40 pm

    Waybuloo or whatever it is makes me want to throw the tv through the window, utterly sickmaking. It’s Balamory or nothing.

  10. 14th October 2009 / 4:11 pm

    Doesn’t she ask to watch it? I like the occasional fifteen minutes of peace and quiet. I hate watching it, too, but that’s ok, because I use it as a babysitter when I’m about to crack, so I don’t have to.

  11. Chris Brennan
    14th October 2009 / 6:38 pm

    I only watch CBeebies for Cerri as she’s hawt (as I believe the modern parlance goes), but I see no problem in not watching TV or for that matter watching it.
    Personally I think too much is too bad, but then I spent hours in front of the idiot box when I was a kid and it never did me no harm. Other than my painfully short attention span and square eyes, obviously.
    TV is the easy whipping boy and there’s no doubt it produces as much guff as it does excellent entertainment. However, I now know a tiny bit of sign language and believe it or not so does The Child. 16 months old since you ask, why yes she is a genius. She can feed herself too and is fast picking up dressing herself.*
    We watch TV together and though I may complain about it on Twitter in actual fact I like it. That said, if I ever see Big Cook and or Little Cook I might not be accountable for my actions.
    *You may think your child is also a genius, however, my precious bundle of joy is clearly much cleverer than your child and I challenge you to a game of passive aggressive ‘well she did x at 13 months too’ to prove it.**
    **Just in case anyone gets the wrong end of my stick this is a joke. I do love passive aggressive parent top trumps, mind.

  12. Miss A Nony Mouse
    14th October 2009 / 5:46 pm

    I am illiterate but reading your blog the scales fell from my eyes and I suddenly could read fleuently and comprehensively. That’s how good it is. In fact, it’s not just good it’s GREAT!!!! It would like to bottle it and smother myself with it when even I’m feeling lonely or down.
    You should also win a Nobel Prize. You have changed my life with your words. And cured my incontinence!! And my annoying skin afliction!!!!!

  13. Sally
    14th October 2009 / 5:50 pm

    @Duncan – Something Sinister! It really is, isn’t it? And I suppose someone has to employ the out of work Northern comics, eh?
    @MadHouse – agree completely. I think for us the point is that TV isn’t forbidden, but Flea chooses not to watch it at this point.
    @DG – after dinner, Flea will do some quiet play, too, that’s when we do stories. This makes me sound like Supermum but last night this translated into my lying prone while Flea looked at books.
    @S – You are SO money, baby. And of course I watch it during the day – it’s either that or Jeremy Kyle, innit?
    @Tattie Weasle – Oh, there’s a whole SIL post to be done – you’ve inspired me!
    @Elizabethm – ahahahaha. Yes, I empathise with that TV through window feeling.
    @Mwa – no. She has a couple of DVDs and I would guess last time she asked to watch one was, maybe June? And then after 10 minutes she’ll ask me to turn it off. Just not that fussed. And Playmobil is my babysitter.

  14. Sally
    14th October 2009 / 5:53 pm

    Miss A Nony Mouse,
    Thankyou. You make your point beautifully and I am struck by your wisdom and insight. Also, your blog is GR8!!!
    I don’t know you, but I think I love you. Not that I’m a stalker, or anything. That’d be weird.

  15. Sue Demin
    14th October 2009 / 6:04 pm

    Hi, I’ve looked at your website and it looks gr8!
    I have a television. Is this normal?

  16. 14th October 2009 / 6:10 pm

    Telly shmelly. My two watch it and I have no problem with them doing so.
    I don’t leave them sat infront of it for an age while I go off and have a bath but much as I hate Dora, when my daughter was 3 she could count to 10 in Spanish from watching it. She knows sign language from watching Something Sinister (brilliant!), she loves history (from Horrible Histories) and she knows how to knock up a mean spag bol from watching Big Cook Little Cook (Ok that last one was a lie)
    Mind you, she also discovered how elephants mate (from one revealing episode of The Discovery Channel) and she thinks that aliens are everywhere (from the Sarah Jane Adventures).

  17. Sally
    14th October 2009 / 6:38 pm

    Sue Demin – you are a bad, bad, lady. Also, I laughed. Is that normal? Perhaps, as an experienced professional, you could tell me. Your blog is gr8 too, btw.

  18. 14th October 2009 / 7:56 pm

    I know I let my kids watch too much TV – I use it like a babysitter at home so I can get stuff done. But I do find that if I say no telly, within 5 minutes they are absorbed in something else – and they would always much rather I took them out or played with them. You have inspired me to try to cut back on it (again – I often cut back and it tends to creep up..)!
    But I don’t mind Waybuloo…Freyja shows me her yoga moves, which, given it’s been years since I attempted a downward dog, I find quite impressive.

  19. 14th October 2009 / 8:38 pm

    Well, I completely agree with the stuff about Waybuloo – ‘load of poo’ more like. As you know, I banned the TV for a week recently which was tough at first but surprisingly OK by the end. As a result, we don’t have the TV on so much (it was only half an hour here or there anyway), and we’re all fine without it. Also, Iggle Piggle is the most awful thing to come out of TV lala land – there should be a Hallowe’en costume of him. Bloody terrifying.

  20. 15th October 2009 / 12:41 am

    Mine probably watch too much – I used it to occupy them when I was trying to work at home when they were babies and the habit has continued. But they’re only allowed to watch ‘educational’ stuff, so that eases the guilt slightly. And nothing with ads. They do learn things from the TV, and to be honest, it’s the only thing that can calm them down sometimes – otherwise they’d be beating each other up or destroying the house.

  21. Sally
    15th October 2009 / 9:37 am

    @Chris – If you haven’t copyrighted “passive aggressive parent top trumps” I’m going to invent it. Genius. Because of course Flea doesn’t watch television because she’s already an accomplished playwright.
    I think the issue is that I’m not saying children’s TV is bad for children, or that I think the programmes you guys like are somehow harmful or too lowbrow for my precious munchkin – it’s just that, for various accidental reasons, Flea’s not that fussed about TV. This means *I* don’t have to watch something that I find obnoxious beyond all human reason.
    (In our house, it’s all about me, basically.)

  22. Sally
    15th October 2009 / 11:40 pm

    @Brits – I just wanted to say something about the being ostracised point, as that’s something people say to me a lot: “Won’t Flea be left out in the playground”
    I think that was an issue when we were kids (I’m assuming you’re in your mid-20s like me, right?) but these days, I’m not so sure.
    Despite not watching TV, Flea can spot Ben10, Power Rangers, Spiderman, Buzz Lightyear and the like at 20 paces. The marketing of these brands is so pervasive that she can join in with the boys playing power rangers despite never having seen the programme. If we’re in the supermarket,she’ll say: “Oh, look, Transformers – Harry would like that”
    In a way, I find it scary that kids don’t even have to watch the shows to absorb the messages. But on the other hand, I don’t worry about her not fitting in! So there’s definitely an upside 😉

  23. 16th October 2009 / 11:47 am

    I now realise I let me kids watch a lot of telly – but they are natural multi-taskers so can also manage to dress up, play schools, torture the cat, and make a ridiculous amount of glitter-centric mess at the same time. A useful life skill I believe.
    I was disturbed the other morning though to see Ava taking pictures of the adverts with her camera. She told me she was ordering Christmas presents.

  24. 20th October 2009 / 1:58 pm

    I misread “only feed their child organic Quinoa and ethically-sourced dried fruits” as “ethically dried fruits” which gave me a hearty chuckle 🙂