dilemmas

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This week's problem:

Mike is addicted to television. So are his children of nine and 10. He and his wife have tried restricting viewing times, but they're unable to stick to their principles. Mike wants to get rid of the box completely. His wife is willing to give it a try, but the kids are upset, saying it will make them `different' from their friends. What should he do?

Give up the telly? What a horrible thought! But as the sight of kids glued to the box hour after hour is equally horrible, what is Mike to do?

In an ideal world, children's eyes should be opened to as many kinds of activity and entertainment as possible. Spending weekends constructing robots out of yoghurt pots, playing musical instruments, reading, making gingerbread men, putting on plays and so on is not enough. These days, a rounded childhood must include computer games and telly as well, and chucking the box out is a drastic and over-reactive response to what's now an integral part of daily life.

No, it's the excessive watching of telly that's the problem, not the telly itself. Indeed, it's the excessive doing of anything. If a child were forced to go out camping and morris dancing every single weekend of his life, for instance, and never given a chance to do a anything else, his childhood would be just as limited as if he spent each weekend goggling.

Mike says that all his plans to control the telly-viewing collapse. But controlling an addiction is not easy. And if Mike can't set an example himself, how can his children ever learn the really essential art of manipulating the on/off button? Mike's aim must be to make the telly a guest in his house rather than the master of it.

One way of clipping television's wings is to get a video and agree that nothing is watched until it is recorded, even if it's straight after it has appeared. It's a fantastic fag to record things, and requires a positive effort; also, for some unknown reason, it's not quite as fun watching recorded programmes as ones fresh off the screen.

Then the telly's quite easy to bar from breakfast, lunch and supper. It isn't a member of the family, after all; it's a mere lodger and has no place laid at the dining table. Another ruse might be to all agree, with a TV guide, exactly what family members are going to watch during the week. No cheating. If Mike's going to channel-hop after lights out, he can't expect his children not to do the same.

Most ordinary families don't need more than the vaguest of guidelines to keep TV in its place. They don't need a cumbersome set of rules to deal with the box. But some people can have the occasional cigarette after dinner; others smoke 40 a day. Some people only have a cream bun once in a while; others can't stop stuffing their faces.

If Mike can teach his children to stay in control of their entertainments by his own example, he'll have taught them a lesson far more important than anything they can learn from books, creative play or, indeed, TV itself.

readers' responses

I am from a television culture and I believe it has made me more inquisitive. I don't think it has harmed me.

Your children are at the age when they know what they want so, with your guidance, let them decide.

Why do you want to make them different, when television is here to stay and by banning their viewing you are alienating them from their friends? I knew children at school whose well-meaning parents would only let them watch BBC channels, and they were ridiculed because of it.

Kim Ward, Nottingham

Our television is a second-hand, 12-inch black and white one. It occupies the usual corner in the living room, and there are no rules as to when or how often the children can watch it, and no criticising them about it.

In fact they watch very little, perhaps a couple of cartoons when they get back from school, Neighbours, the occasional wildlife or science programme, and some sports. Having watched an individual programme they are interested in, the children switch off the television and go upstairs to play. I can happily watch the Nine O'Clock News, Panorama, and Newsweek.

If we had a large colour television, I suspect it would be watched continuously and become a drug (there are signs of this when we visit other houses). I'd also be worried about younger children stumbling on horrific violence. In small screen black and white the impact is much attenuated.

I wouldn't recommend having no television at all in the house: its educational and cultural benefits are too great. Nor is there much point in nagging the children not to watch; mine at least are quick to rebel against anything they consider a parental imposition. Black and white is an excellent compromise. And if your children object to losing their colour television, try bribing them with the difference in the licence fee.

W Picken

In my surgery as a GP I see plenty of children whose childhood is full of anxiety, images of appalling misery and hopeless feelings about the future of the world. The daily diet of misery channelled into the homes through the TV aerial is not mixed with enough cheerful normality: messing about with other kids, watching mum get the supper, or kicking a football around.

We got rid of our television when we had our first baby. Our boys are now 11, eight, and six. Of course they goggle at telly at Granny's and friends' houses but they watch it differently to telly-brain children - they concentrate on the programme and base games on it forever after. With videos, they play them again and again, just as they asked for fairy stories again and again.

My lot are different at school, too: they can play, think up brilliant games and have phenomenal powers of concentration. Our 11-year-old comes top in general knowledge - so much for all the educational content the telly watchers are intent to imbibe.

Oh but, say telly owners, think about all the good children's programmes you're missing. If they're that good, I feel we'll see the video in three years' time and we won't have to sit through the patronising crass rubbish either.

Every few years we get a telly second-hand for the month of the World Cup; it reminds me why we don't want one the rest of the time, and we sell it again.

Get rid of your telly and let your children have a first-hand childhood.

Kathryn Vale, East Sussex

next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I've been married for two years and my husband is obsessively jealous. He rings me at work and if I'm not there he gets into a terrible state. He questions me about every meeting I go to, and even if I'm away getting a coffee break when he calls, he grills me.

At home he's absolutely lovely, the most perfect man in the world. But just recently I've noticed he comes shopping with me more often, and last week he got very funny when I chatted to our 70-year-old neighbour over the fence.

Last week, he said he'd give me a lift to and from work in future, and when I said I enjoyed the trip on public transport he got upset, saying I didn't want to be with him and then accusing me of meeting men in secret on my journey there.

Reassuring him makes no difference. When he's working very hard it gets better, but I'm starting to feel claustrophobic. And yet I do love him so much. What can I do?

Yours sincerely,

Vicky

All comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate.

Please send any relevant personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, the Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL; fax 0171-293-2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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