Childhood Genius ~Switching Off the TV
‘I have to make time to play games with her, when I confess in the past I might have nipped upstairs to mess around on Twitter while she gawked at Take Me Out’
She was in the lowest reading group, her spelling was terrible and she rarely finished work. We were gutted – and mystified. I know every parent thinks their child is marvellous, but Peggy’s definitely not thick. She’s as bright as a button to be around, very funny and has a pretty amazing vocabulary.
“The problem was, we realised, that she just can’t settle to anything. It was when my sister gave her a cross-stitch kit in the summer holidays and Peggy lost interest before we even had it properly out of the box that the penny dropped. She has an attention deficit issue. My baby! Once I realised what the problem was, a lot of things fell into place. All the times she’d had friends over and we’d started some kind of craft project, which they’d happily finished, but she had abandoned in favour of doing cartwheels, playing the piano in three-minutes bursts, or just running round and round the table. It also explained why, to her novelist mother’s great sadness, she had never read a book to the end. I turned to Google and there it all was.
All the evidence about the effect of too much TV on children’s development. A 2004 study by the American Academy of Paediatrics spelled it out. ‘Early television exposure is associated with attention problems at age seven.’ There it was, on my computer screen, from the highest authority. Watching too much telly when she was little had fried my darling girl’s brain.
Then someone gave me the amazing book The Brain That Changes Itself, by Canadian doctor Norman Doidge.
It explores the concept of ‘neuroplasticity’, which suggests the brain is capable of constant change. Dr Doidge gave me hope that I might unfry Peggy’s brain, if I could rein back the TV even now. But how to do it, without it seeming like a punishment?
After asking around other parents, I was surprised to find how many of them already had TV controls in place. One family had given up television entirely. They had a set to watch DVDs on together and that was it. Incidentally, this is also Madonna’s system.
For others, it was only after 5pm or one hour of screen time a day, either telly, video game, or computer. I started cutting back in the Christmas holidays. Over about four weeks, we got her telly watching down to an hour at night, plus the occasional DVD watched together. I discussed it with her and was surprised how willing she was to give it a try, although it has taken effort and commitment on my part. I have to make time to play games with her, when I confess in the past I might have nipped upstairs to mess around on Twitter while she gawked at Take Me Out. And do you know what? It’s great fun.
We cook together, we play board games, do jigsaws, and the whole family is addicted to a brilliant (Mensaapproved) card game called Rat-a-Tat Cat. In fact it reminds me of that winter in the Seventies of nightly powercuts and the whole family playing cards by the light of a paraffin lamp – a time I remember as one of the happiest of my life. Oh – and she’s reading books. On her own. To the end.”