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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 June 2007, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Transcript: Is TV Bad for my Kids?

Is TV Bad for my Kids?

DATE: 18:06:07

JEREMY VINE: Hello, I'm Jeremy Vine and this is Panorama. Is it time to admit that TV is damaging our children, doing the job we should be doing ourselves, and making family life without TV seem like just too much hard work.

CATHERINE: Thinking of how we were using the TV as a pacifier for the kids just totally seemed totally mad now.

VINE: It makes our kids fat, teaches them to be violent and rots their brains. If, as some argue, TV, computer games, are guilty of all of that, then surely they should be banned or at least severely rationed. But hang on ? if the kids were unglued from the screen, could we, the parents, cope? Many of us depend on the TV far more than we'd ever admit.

Source: ChildWise Monitor Report Winter 2006-2007

Eighty-four percent of children over five have a telly in their bedroom. In the year before he turns 9, the average child will watch 32 whole days of television. So this is childhood, but not as we knew it. And as parents, we kick ourselves, maybe feeling we didn't hold the line as we'd planned to. But isn't that really an excuse. TV and computer games are supremely convenient tools for us, they give us control. As yet there's been no UK study on the effect on children of taking TVs and computers out of the home.

This is Park Road Primary School on the outskirts of Manchester, a very friendly place, as we're about to see. This is year 3 in here. Hi there!

CHILDREN: Hi there.

VINE: See how enthusiastic they are? 7 and 8 years old. James, what are you studying?

JAMES: Numeracy.

VINE: Numeracy. Well they have agreed to take part in our experiment to see what happens when televisions and computers are removed from their lives, and just over here on the wall we've got cameras to record the impact of what goes on. Standby for the short, sharp shock. We'll be going to their homes and removing the screens, the telly, the PC, the games, everything but the microwave. In exchange they get one new piece of electrical equipment, a camera to film what happens.

Right, step away from the telly.

VINE: And they're keeping a daily diary of family life.

CHILD: So mummy, what are you doing now?

MUM2: I'm just filling in the diary.

CHILD: What diary is that for?

MUM2: My diary for Panorama.

DAD2: Even like keeping the diary for the last week sort of highlights how sometimes on a Saturday afternoon, the match, I sit there and do nothing but watch the telly really.. well it's a bit more than we always thought they didn't do that, but we suddenly realised that they do.

MUM1: We think we're doing okay now but I think we notice that we do kind of talk and sit down more together when everything's gone, so I think it'll just be interesting to see exactly what part this does play in the kids' lives and our lives as a family really.

VINE: Panorama works closely with Professor Barry Guntha, a psychologist from the University of Leicester whose main focus is the way the media affect us all.

University of Leicester
I think this is an exciting study because it's a very unusual kind of study to carry out. We've gone into people's homes and we've changed the circumstances under which they live. That's a very difficult thing to do.

VINE: What makes this so interesting is that the children come together at school, so we can watch the way family life is altered and then go into class and see that too.

BILL JONES: I watch TV loads and loads and loads and loads.

VINE: For Bill Jones and his brother Sam TV is almost intravenous. They watch around 3 hours a day, even more than the national average.

5-16 Years olds watch 2 hours and 24 mintues a day Source: ChildWise Monitor Reprot Winter 2006-2007

BILL: I watch TV when I get up in the morning.

JULIE JONES: He normally gets up round about 7 o'clock in the morning, comes downstairs and turns the telly on.

BILL: I watch it when I come home from school.

JULIE: .. and he's got to do his homework, that's a battle.

VINE: One small victory for mum, Bill is not allowed his meals in front of it ? oh, except on Friday.

JULIE: And it makes us look really bad and that our children are telly addicts.

VINE: We watched Bill closely. He's in year 3 at Park Road. He's lively, sometimes a bit too lively.

TEACHER: Just wasting time Bill.

BILL: Sometimes I don't like it what's on the television.

JULIE: But you watch it anyway.

BILL: Mmm hm. Yeah.

JULIE: It's gonna be an absolute nightmare (laughs)

VINE: Now meet Natasha Meyer. Her mum and dad are honest about it. She and her sister get the telly because their parents have other priorities.

NATASHA: Do not turn the TV off.

CATHERINE MAYOR: TV definitely is an easy option. They do find themselves plonked in front of the TV just to pacify them and just to help me get on with what I've got to do.

VINE: They have 3 TVs. One is in Natasha's bedroom.

CATHERINE: If she's engrossed in a film or programme it is difficult to kind of get her to the table and eat her tea. Just try and engage in a conversation, or ask her what she's doing, or trying to get her to do her homework. It can be a distraction. They go to bed watching a DVD, and I definitely find that it does calm them down.

VINE: But Natasha is described at school as a daydreamer and a chatterbox.

NATASHA'S DAD: They'll definitely miss the tellys when they've gone. I know I will.

VINE: James Brean has plenty to distract him. He's the eldest of four. Homework does not come easy.

JAMES BREEN: I'm trying to read the words, if it don't get learned by tomorrow I'm going to be shouted at.

VINE: Jim seemed to OD on TV as the ban approached. Almost as if he was stocking up his reserves. He has a telly and a computer in his bedroom.

SUSAN BREEN: I'm quite looking forward to the tellys and the PS2s being taken away because I think it will be interesting to see what other things they do.

Right Jim, so your telly's going to be going tomorrow morning.

JIM: Yep.

SUSAN: And your PS2.

JIM: Yep.

SUSAN: What do you think about that?

JIM: That's going to be bad.

SUSAN BREEN: James doesn't really seem too bothered at the moment, but I think when reality actually hits it may be slightly different.

VINE: And at school? Well Jim tries hard, but he does get easily distracted.

DAD: Turn the telly off please.

VINE: And this is James Foster. Not that he could tell you his name when he's locked in on the football.

MUM: What you doing James? James?

JAMES: I'm watching the TV.

MUM: What you watching?

JAMES: I don't know.

MUM: Pardon?

JAMES: Don't know.

MUM: Are you watching football?

JAMES: Yeah.

VINE: James is so plugged in to the TV and PlayStation he's completely disconnected from the rest of the family.

MUM: What are you doing James?

JAMES: (mumbles)

MUM: What are you doing James? What are you doing now James?

JAMES: Play Station. Ah, he hit the crossbar. (in the car, still on Play Station) Can we drive now?

MUM: Unbelievable.

VINE: Every day James Foster spends an hour and 20 minutes on his PlayStation.

MUM: So you're playing PSP. And watching football at the same time. Will you miss your PSP?

JAMES: Yeah, no, yeah.

VINE: The classroom can't compete with the PlayStation. But if a child fidgets here or chatters is that because a flickering screen at home has worn away their power to concentrate? It might just be because they're children.

GUNTER: Kids today, you know, they're born into an environment where television is there from the start. And it's only when we take that technology out of our homes completely that we begin to realise how dependent upon it we've become.

VINE: Day zero arrives. From half the class Panorama is removing TVs and computer games.

REMOVAL MEN: Hi ya love. I'm Andy, this is Geoff. We've come to take your TVs.

VINE: The next 2 weeks they can do whatever they want except the one thing they're always doing.

JAMES: I'll miss my FIFA '07, and my football, and my PlayStation.

VINE: The families will keep a record of what happens at home, and we'll keep filming in the classroom. We couldn't persuade James Breen's mum and dad to part with their main TV, so we've given them a blocking device.

SUSAN: That's why they've put the special locking device at the bottom here. Stops you from being able to turn the telly on. Yep.

NATASHA: They're taking the TVs out.

JULIE: I think she's worried that her PlayStation's going, and her Nintendo's going.

NATASHA: She loves her Nintendo.

DAD: When I was their age I didn't watch half as much television but it'll give us a chance to do a bit more as a family, instead of just, you know, sitting down, plonking ourselves in front of the telly.

BILL: I feel a bit worried that I won't be able to take it, but I probably will though.

DAD: Thanks a lot. (waving telly goodbye)

VINE: So how big a hole will this leave in the lives of our families? What will fill the silence?

DAD: Station number one is warmer. (physical training)

VINE: Without the TV it's clear the parents will have to work a lot harder.

DAD: A burger, hot dog.

JAMES: A burger, hot dog.

DAD: So 1, 2 , 3. Arms straight out. 1, 2.

JAMES: I wonder what to do. Just look at all those games. Buckaroo.

CATHERINE: It's only been 4 hours and I think I will crack very soon without my TV.

BILL: Yeah, I win.

MUM: Finally he wins.

VINE: How will Bill 3-hours-a-day Jones manage without TV before school?

BILL: Does yours have a hat on?


The best things about not having a television is that I'm getting along with my brother much better because there's no television.

BILL: Does yours have a grey moustache?


VINE: Meanwhile James Breen and his brothers and sisters are back in the childhoods their parents had.

SUSAN: Because the telly isn't there they're continuously doing things.

JAMES: It's day 2 and tonight we're playing scrabble. Here's a scrabble letter. That's how big they are.

SUSAN: They've amazed me so far. They don't seem to have missed the telly whatsoever. I can't really see the bad points about not having a telly yet really.

VINE: James Foster's mum has got her son back now he's been deprived of his PlayStation.

SUSAN: It's your fifth day without the TV. What do you think of that?

JAMES: Good.

SUSAN: Do you miss the TV?

JAMES: Yeah.

SUSAN: You do miss it? Well you don't seem like you do.

Do you know why I like it so much?


SUSAN: Because you're just like your normal self again. It's nice to see you playing isn't it, and laughing and having fun, which you just don't do when you're on that PSP do you? No.

VINE: And here's an eye-opener. Natasha and her sister Olivia, who used to watch DVDs in their bedroom till they fell asleep, are now managing to nod off without them.

CATHERINE: Tonight they've just had their tea, listened to music, played a game between them and gone straight to bed, no problems at all. I feel very surprised and worried really that I used to let them kind of go to bed with a DVD thinking that it calmed them and, you know, made them kind of tired and go to sleep, but now without the TVs I know that that's not the case, and they didn't need the TV at all to kind of settle down. They can just do that on themselves. Which, for a parent, for me to kind of make them go to bed with a TV was the wrong thing to do really.

BILL: It's nearly been a week and I've been coping without the television very well. On Saturday I'd be watching the telly for most of the day, and doing nothing really. I'm not that bothered really when we get our television back. I keep forgetting I've not got it though, and I keep forgetting I've not got the computer.

VINE: At Natasha's house the first signs that school work may benefit.

CATHERINE: Natasha's behaviour's changed. She's just been more keen to do her school work, whereas before we used to have such a fight each week trying to get her to do her work. So she's been more willing to do that.

VINE: The families are now halfway through the ban. Natasha's mum feels she can see all kinds of changes, none for the worse.

CATHERINE: We're spending a lot more quality time with the kids. And they seem to enjoy our company more, they're a lot calmer, we're a lot calmer. The whole atmosphere in the house is totally changed since the TVs have gone. Thinking of how we were as a family around the TV, and had the TV controlling us, and using the TV as kind of a pacifier for the kids going to bed just totally seems totally crazy and totally mad now.

VINE: 8 days in, Bill Jones and his brother aren't fighting over the remote anymore.

BROTHER SAM: We've been coping so well, we don't really need the telly back next Sunday.

BILL: I wouldn't mind if Panorama was keeping the telly because me and Sam are having a good time without it.

MUM: They used to get the sticks out and there'd be fighting. They've not been doing that, they've not been doing games. They've been playing nicely. They've used more of their imaginations. I think maybe the telly does influence the way that they play. It's not been as bad as I thought it would be, but I'll be quite glad when it's back. Mentally I think we're exhausted.

VINE: Which gives the game away. TV gets blamed by us parents, but it is also used by us. Take it away mum and dad have to work harder.

JAMES: Let's film Mummy. Let's film Mummy.

MUM: This is very early on a Sunday morning, and the children are being very silly, which you just don't need first thing on a Sunday morning do you really? They're shutting me out now (children play) This is the first time I actually want the TV, just to initiate some control over them.

VINE: Parents are remembering why they allowed TV to dominate family life. It comes down to that word, ?control'.

SUSAN: This morning they were extremely giddy, and they've been a little bit giddy the past couple of days as if they're kind of having withdrawal symptoms, I don't know. It's definitely a lot messier not having the telly. This was the state that the room was left in before they all went to school this morning. But they are a lot more tired, and to be honest I'm more tired as well.

Prof BARRIE GUNTER, University of Leicester: At the outset although the parents, particularly the mums were saying "well I'm not sure how James or Natasha will cope" what they were really saying I think is they were not sure how well they were going to cope either. And TV was being used in ways which I think the parents had not really thought about for quite some time. And it wasn't until the TV was taken away that they realised how dependent upon it they'd become for all kinds of things, in terms of occupying time and controlling their kids behaviour at home.

VINE: Suddenly the kids become the enforcers. Natasha finds Dad's laptop under the bed.

CATHERINE: What do you think about that?

NATASHA: He's been very naughty.

VINE: He rings from work and gets a dressing down.

CATHERINE: Tasha's got something to tell you. One sec. No, nothing. One sec.

NATASHA: (laughing) I found your laptop.

VINE: He protests he wasn't using it. Now he sounds like the child.

CATHERINE: Right you're a very naughty boy, and Tasha wants to smack your bum when she sees you.

VINE: But then a more serious breach at the Foster's. It's another father.

SUSAN: Okay James has had a bit of an episode, bit of a tantrum there because he can't watch the football on the TV. But to make matters worse David is in the other room watching it on his PC which has really wound James up, and I think it's totally unfair. And he's really mad as you can see. (James attacking mum with pillow) So that little outburst was all caused because David has taken it upon himself to sit in the dining room and put the football on his PC.

DAVID: Well it's City ain't it? I'm bound to watch the match.

SUSAN: No but you should have gone out to watch it David.

DAVID: Oh shut up.

SUSAN: What about James? He's really mad. He's really worked up about it.

DAVID: No wonder. He's a boy that's why. Come on.

VINE: Luckily for James 2 weeks in the ban is over. Our families have come through the longest TV deprivation study in the UK.

CATHERINE: Today the TVs, and PlayStation, and Nintendos come back.

JAMES: It's day zero.

BILL: And it's over, woo hoo.

SAM: We should start all over again.

MUM: I can see how we'll just slip into old habits very, very quickly, but we'll just have to try.

It's now been 2 minutes since the removal people came back with our telly, James and Jo are glued. Are you watching them as well? Is it good having your telly back Fern?

FERN: Yes.

CATHERINE: So Tash with the PlayStation you'll only be able to use it at weekends. You can go on it today but then that's it. Tomorrow when it's a school night you don't go on it on a school night.

DAD: You have to pay us to go on it.

NATASHA: No way. Rubbish.

CATHERINE: Now we have the same problem of not being able to communicate because they are glued to the PS2.

BILL: I think it took about 15 minutes for me to put the television on. I don't know what my brother's doing. I think now the television is back me and my brother will play together less.

VINE: At first the children went back to their old ways, but then to our surprise one week on we found their average viewing was down 50% compared with the time before the ban came in.

GUNTER: What this experiment I think has shown is once you take the distraction of TV away members of the family then have to engage one another, they have to pay more attention and a different quality of attention to each other. And that's certainly what happened in this experiment. And I think everybody felt, who took part, that they'd benefited because they were now behaving as a family unit again, and were doing things together, and the kids felt they were getting more and better attention from mum and dad. And in many ways that calmed them down, because one of the reasons why kids often get excited is because they're attention seeking. If they're getting the attention they want they calm down.

CATHERINE: To be honest looking back at how we used to do things I feel that I've probably, in a way, let my kids down really. I should have done more with them, and to think that I relied on the TV and the games to help them and to keep them occupied, and for things for them to do I feel quite sad really that that's the kind of family that we were.

VINE: And in the classroom the children's behaviour and concentration were rated before and after. Studies abroad suggested there'd be improvements, but our results were inconclusive.

TEACHER: I don't feel there's been a great change in the whole class situation.

VINE: Yet there is a change in Natasha. The girl who used to go to bed with DVDs.

KERRY HART, Year 8 Teacher Over the past 2 weeks I've seen a huge change in Natasha Mayor. I feel that she's concentrated much better, she's applied herself to work, and also she participates a little bit more now in class than prior to the 2 weeks.

CATHERINE: We had parents evening for Natasha and it is the best parents evening that we've had. The teacher ahs noticed a tremendous difference in her concentration and her work in school, which has mirrored what we've found here at home with her. Her concentration, and her work level, and everything has totally changed, and it's very good to see that it's not only just happened at home but at school as well, and her parents evening was amazing.

GUNTER: Taking the group of kids as a whole there was no significance overall change in their behaviour, certainly not that we could attribute to the removal of TV or computer games at home.

VINE: Natasha's mum says "wow, that's the best parents evening I've ever had." So we're all thinking "gosh, there's suddenly route one. She's actually become a better student."

GUNTER: I think yeah there's a clear example of a potentially positive benefit of the removal of TV from a particular child's environment where I think for the first time not just the child but her parents began to think about how they were using television.

VINE: 10 weeks on I met some of the parents to see if they are making any long term changes at home.

You've come back to a different kind of viewing have you?

SUSAN: Yes, we changed it so that they can only watch telly once they've done homework, and then they can only watch the telly up until Bernie comes home from work.

VINE: So has anyone else got rules here as a result of this? The Ropers, you've got any rules now?

MUM: What's our rule?

BOY: There's not really any TV in the morning apart from the news on a school day.

VINE: Okay.

MUM: Yes on the school days.

DAD: I think most people have done that, haven't they? We definitely don't have any TV.

DAD: It made you realise I think how the television sort of serves as a sort of, you know, child care sort of instrument in a way. For half an hour whilst you're doing something they can just sit there, and you know they're there, and they're not getting up to mischief sort of thing.

VINE: But we're all in that position aren't we as parents, trying to.. you know, using the TV to baby-sit and then..

DAD 1: I think that sort of heightened the awareness really more than anything for us.

DAD 2: Yeah it's more effort to not have the TV around.

DAD 1: Yeah, it makes you realise how easy it is just to say "oh just see you in a minute."

MUM: Since they were banned from the telly they've actually found each other's company quite entertaining. So they do watch the telly but then they'll take themselves off of their own accord and play.

VINE: How have you felt as Bill's mum seeing that?

MUM: Oh it's lovely. It's really nice. And we did notice that when we didn't have the telly there was less arguing, less fighting.

VINE: You know we were looking for results in the classroom and we found them in the home. That was the big thing for us. Does that? Mr Breen..

DAD: I think we definitely found it very positive, very positive.

SUSAN: It was. It was just there was a lot more laughter in the house. We were having a good laugh and we kind of, you know, we were more of a family. It's really, really old.

DAD: Mostly at my expense the laughter.

VINE: This has been absolutely fascinating for us. We embarked on this experiment thinking it would show us whether pulling the plug on the TV would suddenly open the eyes of our children to the glorious world of the classroom. We've ended the experiment with our own eyes open, realising that the main effects were not felt at school but at home. Suddenly we weren't filming mum, and dad, and son, and daughter, we were filming families.

GUNTER: It is heartening to see how these families went on a journey if you like from dependency on television to recognising that there was actually more to life than sitting in front of the box all the time. And that they all felt that they had benefited by the experience, and they'd become healthier as families.

VINE: The Mayors were so pleased with the benefits they experienced during 2 weeks without their tellies they decided to take drastic action. They invited us along.

DAD: We've decided that we're going to get rid of the kids TV out of their bedroom. So to be fair we've decided to get rid of ours out the bedroom as well.

CATHERINE: I'm glad it's going in a way really. Spent kind of more time downstairs as a family just with the one main TV. Not bothered, and the kids aren't bothered about losing theirs either.

Right is this a happy day for you?

NATASHA: A little bit.

VINE: Thanks to the children and parents of year 3 Park Road Primary School for giving up the TV for 2 whole weeks. So could you do it? Could your children manage and could you? We are running a nationwide experiment to find out. To get the details just go on our website or text the words ?BAN TV' to 88822. That text will cost no more than 15p. The whole thing starts tomorrow.

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