Where are you in the TV debate?

Let the kids watch more TV and eat more pizza – that’s the new parenting tip from Dr Bryan Caplan. He’s not an American childhood guru, he’s a marketing genius with strong libertarian tendencies – just have a look at The Myth of the Rational Voter: why democracies choose bad policies .

I can imagine generations of dads like him trying to read the paper (or watch the TV) finding ways to ensure a quiet life so they can get on with the important tasks of… well, I’m not quite sure what Caplan thinks Dad tasks are, although calming mums down sounds like a good one. His idea of cutting children a bit of slack (a lot actually) so parents don’t turn into the chauffer-cross slave driver forcing little ones to attend extra lessons like ballet, football, piano etc is a great one.

It’s my life
The exception is swimming – that’s a life saver skill – but the rest of what children do should be much more steered by them. Most kids have to go to school, and really don’t need to be pressure-educated with a host of other after-school activities. Far better to wait until they are a bit older, let’s say seven or eight years and can then choose one fun thing to do, that they love, which brings them confidence and is fun, affordable and they can get to it themselves, which will help them make and meet local friends.

Turn the TV on and find out
Caplan’s book is going to help a lot of mums who feel obliged to keep the kids busy learning. Many kids would enjoy life even more with the option of greater downtime during which they can do much more of what they like.

I’m not a fan of the TV being forever on, but sometimes I love watching it. And if I ever over-kill switching the remote to this, that and the next it soon becomes boring, even reruns of Friends.

In my book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children there’s a strong suggestion to get you and the kids children skilled up.

Perhaps the most basic of these is for a child has the skills to entertain themselves – to play, or read, or find something more active to do. When Nell was in hospital last month the nurse said she could tell she didn’t watch TV often, and that you could always tell, as the TV-deprived (sorry rather an emotive word) were the ones glued to the channels. I noticed when she left Addenbrookes it didn’t turn her into a TV junkie, she’d simply enjoyed a glut of TV when she needed it, lying a bit breathless on a hospital bed.

Kids need me time
When they are little me time is going to mean sitting on your lap, being with you, being cared hugely by you. But as they get bigger it should segue into time alone, or in their own imaginary world of clashing Titans, shopping Sylvanians or whatever rocks their Baby Gap socks. If you ignore Caplan’s ideas and do the pushy parenting where Monday’s fencing, Tuesday Kumon maths then swimming, Wednesday is soccer school, Friday is French and the weekend an exhaustive round of child-centred activities your child loses the me time. No wonder they end up un-cooperative, over-tired and possibly unhappy.

If you want to look at Caplan’s book explaining why being a great parent is less work and more fun than you think and nothing like pushy Tiger Mum, then see here or see this version, here, from The Sun.

Good luck whatever you are trying to do!

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