Every time we turn off the TV my daughter, Princess Peppa, will, within one hour, have a major strop, be at best really grumpy and snappy with the family, at worst be an absolute devil-child.
I have noticed this phenomenon develop in her over the last couple of years and get swiftly worse in the last few months as the type of TV she watches has evolved. She is now 7 years old and has recently graduated from CBeebies to CBBC.
At the same time we have started watching more action cartoons in preference to the former Peppa Pig, Dora the Explorer, Disney Princess films or Barbie.
Since Little Miss George is such a Tomboy in her attempt to be individual from her girlie big sister, we now watch Ben10, Scooby Doo, Spider-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Marvel Avengers. I must admit to being proud they are breaking away from the stereotypical 'girl' TV, however it's not without its disadvantages.
Apparently, when a child gets to an age where their concentration span is strong enough to really focus on a half-hour programme and really get into it, they find it difficult, after the programme, to go back to normal social niceties. Jo Frost, in her original book Supernanny, says of television; "what they are getting is mindless stimulation that will wind them up and shorten their attention spans."
In French Twist, Caroline Crawford quotes her French friend's response to their children starting to fight after just 30 minutes screen time; "It is the television. They always fight when they watch TV. It takes a while for them to use their own brains again after watching."
Though this applies to all programmes, I very much suspect that the type of action cartoons we are now watching (full of far too much fighting and shooting and blowing up of things) has a stronger after-effect.
Princess Peppa watched Ben10 for an hour at lunch today whilst dinner settled. In the hour after the TV went off she snapped at me and her sister, rolled her eyes like a teenager (she's 7 remember) and overreacted when I asked simple requests like "please pull your seatbelt tighter". Behaviour most unlike her.
Despite the BBC reporting that the Medical Tesearch Council (MRC) claimed this March that there is no correlation between TV and bad behaviour, it's hard to ignore the evidence of your own children's behavioural changes.
So how can you avoid the post-TV grump?
- Limit the length of time each TV block lasts to less than an hour.
- Limit the total TV time in any one day to less than 2 hours.
- Have at least one TV-free day a week
- Limit access to high-action cartoons in the Marvel vein in preference to calmer programmes
- Find programmes that tell a story; that have a clear beginning, middle and end.
- Encourage social play. This is easier if your children have siblings. If not try and arrange play dates. In the 80s we used to go for tea at friends houses straight from school. Only for about an hour and a half, but it was almost daily that we'd take turns. Great to avoid the need for a TV-babysitter when you are preparing Tea.
If you can't avoid the post-TV grump?
Try not to engage in discussion with a stropping child. Say "mummy can't talk to you until you are calm. Sit here and calm down. Stop shouting. And we can talk calmly when we can sort it out". And then walk away or do another task and don't engage until there's a calm, sheepish, child in front of you.
Take a deep breath and remember you are not 7. If its not OK for them to shout at you, then why would it be OK for you to shout at them? Often a quieter almost overly calm voice is best in the face if adversity.
Stick to your word. If you make the mistake, like I have, of threatening no ice-cream if.... Or going home if..... Then you have to follow up if they misbehave. If you don't they'll know you are a pushover and that you'll always back down. Best plan? Don't threaten going home if you are somewhere you want to stay!
Have you noticed the post-TV grump? What are your strategies? How much TV is too much at once? Or in a day/week?
I'd appreciate your thoughts. Feel free to join the debate with me on Twitter at @ymummyreally.