The thing about kids’ TV

We have a love hate relationship with TV. As a parent I’ve felt at times indebted to it and at other times despised it for being the altar at which the children worship! Of course it’s entirely my fault.

When I wanted to occupy a toddler so I can do something more exciting like scale the North face of the washing pile, or it’s 4.30 in the morning and apparently time to get up, it’s a blessing – Its hypnotic, quieting effect on a toddler is amazing! And equally, I’ve been the parent that has marched in to the living room, snatched the remote control from a teenager’s hand and turned it off, demanding they do something more constructive than sit on their arse all day watching TV, then walked away feeling I’d turned into my parents!

Cartoons are a sign of the times. Our childhood memories are laced with them, they delineate generations so perfectly. We reminisce about them with friends, choose them as our profile pictures and get retro tee shirts with our favourite cartoon characters emblazoned across the front to show that old is cool!

For me, a 70’s kid, it was the timeless classics from Looney Toons; Tom and Jerry, Wile E Coyote, Sylvester the Cat, Donald Duck, Pluto (I especially liked the ones when where he mimicked our parents’ lives and sports; on the golf course, driving cars, work etc.) as well as Whacky Races, Dick Dastardly, Danger Mouse and the ‘Slightly weird now I think about it’ Mister Ben and Bod. We sniggered at Captain Pugwash, Rhubarb and Custard and Banana Man and then imperceptibly we grew out of them.

Shoot forward twenty-five years and suddenly cartoons played another major role in our family life. And much had changed. There seemed to be a moral lesson in every cartoon which is very American and understandable as most cartoons are from there, thanks Nickelodeon! We’re far too cynical in the UK to be taken in by a moral lesson sneaked in at the end of a cartoon! In fact we used to see who could spot the ‘moral’ first in our house. My little girl watched Rug Rats, Hey Arnold, Sponge Bob, Doug and when I could get it in, Johnny Bravo! I enjoyed them myself and it even prompted me to introduce her to Looney Toons, though that was more for my benefit than hers if the truth be told! They defused many a tantrum, occupied toddler minds when my mind wanted only to go back to sleep and took their minds off the vegetables we’d sneak onto their plates at meal times.

Shoot forward another ten years and that is where the cracks started to appear. Saved by the Bell, Sabrina, Kenan and Kel, Sister, Sister! The dire Nickelodeon stable mates played endlessly back to back on the weekend, it was ‘Saved by the Bell Saturday’ that done me in. I could live with Tracy Beaker, not literally, but you know what I mean. It had balls that show and she had attitude, but the rest, dull as dishwater. Watching High School Musical and hearing a song lyric that described a kid who wasn’t in the popular crowd as being, “Weird, but in a good way!” I’d had enough. Now it was time to ban TV, ban horrible American teen shows and become my parents. “You’re not watching anymore of this crap!”, “Well I watch it in my room” came the indifferent reply, “Not, when I’ve put it in the loft you won’t!” I said, hearing my mum’s voice echo in my mind as I spoke it.

Cartoons sadly no longer play a major role in the family home, the toddler is now nineteen.  Cartoons are now part of our family’s reminiscences and sometimes the cause of friendly arguments about which generation of cartoons were best. Occasionally however, even with more TV’s in the house than people and with very different tastes in what we like to watch, on a wet weekend one of us will come across a cartoon and watch it and start to laugh. And someone will shout, “What you watching?” “Tom and Jerry.” And suddenly we’ll be watching a cartoon together.  For three minutes we’ll stop being busy people and be transported back to being children and the parents of children.