Screen Time: How much television do you/should you let your kids watch?

Courtesy of pinterest

Courtesy of pinterest

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 28th October, 2014.

I wrote a column a fortnight ago about the X-factor and it had me thinking about TV in general.

Different families have different rules about television and ‘screen time’. It’s always been that way. When I was young, some of my friends weren’t allowed to watch Grange Hill. It was seen to be a bad influence on school children because it featured some rascals in a state school. Shock! Horror! Just potter about on the pavement outside a state or private school: teenagers are teenagers wherever they are, and so they should be.

Nowadays, we have become to numb to what is shocking. Families sit in front of the goggle box watching all manner of programmes, some of which – whilst seemingly harmless today – would have had previous generations in uproar. It’s so hard to judge what is and isn’t appropriate sometimes.

Other families allow their very young children to play all manner of video games. If a ‘game’ (definition: an activity that one engages in for amusement), involves graphic theft, violence and/or rape, then how is it suitable for humanity, let alone children?

Children’s brains and moral compasses are only just forming. As adults, we model the behaviours that we expect to see: kindness, empathy, love, care, and so on. Children cannot always draw a distinctive line between what is real and what is not, and they deserve protection from all that is bad in the world for as long as we can manage it.

I am not saying that we should moddle-coddle our children, but we should always allow them the innocence of childhood days: the great outdoors, the wind in their hair, guileless fun, and appropriate screen time.

Televisions and tablets, laptops and iPads: all have taken on a near God-like status in our 21st century culture. Many homes have TVs like cinemas, mounted on the wall like art, above head height, with families gazing transfixed upon them, as if to some electric icon.

I don’t limit my children’s screen time at the moment because, for now, it tends to be self-limiting. They’ll happily watch programmes, but will inevitably then scoot off, distracted by more make-believe and the ever-popular refrain, “Let’s play schools.”

As for me, the TV, combined with a good drama and my PJs, is a marvelous thing in the evening once the toddlers are in bed. Unfortunately the ‘good drama’ stipulation has become a rarity, which leads me to my new hobby: crochet. I am officially past it.


Teaching, Students, Ex-Students, and Parents…


First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 21st October 2014

In my job, I am lucky enough to work with some extraordinary families. As teachers, we are in the privileged position of seeing families and children at both their best, and worst, of times. We are also lucky enough to be able to help those children, and their families, to become the best that they can be.

I love my job, and I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I first saw one write on a blackboard in 1981. I love the people, the experiences, the subject and the passion. It gives me a true sense of self-worth, and – somewhat dramatically, yet true – I always feel as though I am doing what I was put on earth to do.

I am surrounded by like-minded colleagues on a daily basis, and the satisfaction of being able to help a student get to where they want to be, is unbeatable. As teachers, we are simply facilitators of this – it’s the kids who do the hardest work – but it’s a wonderful career to be in.

The school where I work is almost like a family itself. I count myself fortunate to be in a strong, friendly, supportive team. Because there’s also no question that teaching can be tough. It’s a 24/7 job. You never stop thinking about your responsibility to the students and, yes, we do work on ‘insect’ days. We also have to find childcare for our own kids on their inset days, so we empathise with working parents the country over.

It’s tough being a kid, and it’s tough being a parent. When we’re young, we moan about wanting to be older. We think of how fabulous it will be to have independence and to come and go as we please. But not only is it hard enough just traversing our way through our teenage years, it’s even harder once we have the bills and the mortgage to pay. In fact, we usually then dream of being young again.

Of course, I occasionally hear sad stories about the students that I’ve taught, and this can be heart-breaking when you’ve seen such innocent potential, guileless and young. But these moments are out-weighed by the great and the good.

Some of the kids that I’ve taught are in their mid-twenties now. Some are parents themselves. Some are even teachers, which is fantastic. I also hear via social media from both ex-students and their parents, and I love it when they get in touch.

To see how they’ve progressed through life, and to hear about the successes that they have achieved, is a truly wonderful thing.

The Zzzz-Factor. Sorry, I mean ‘X’.


First published in the Portsmouth News, Tuesday 14th October 2014

Weekend television: the domain of tired parents. However, it would appear that if one wishes to watch anything on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night, then one had best enjoy the X-Factor.

How it is that the X-Factor is given the entire weekend to air is beyond me. Long gone are the days when I used to tune in and amuse myself with my mates, posting witticisms about the contestants on social media.

Instead, even if there are good contestants, it is still dull, because it is, ceaselessly, the same. The songs are the same, the contestants are the same, and the judges make the same comments.

This Saturday, I tuned in at 8.30pm with the intent to see if these suspicions were correct, and indeed they are. The only thing to really change is that either Simon’s plastic surgeon has stared drinking on the job, or baby Eric has been keeping him up all night. Either way, he needs to change his surname from Cowell to Jowl.

The ever-present ex, Sinitta, oozed onto screen dressed as a Carmen Miranda tribute act, only missing half of the clothing required and practically tripping over her cervix. Lauren Silverman must be trying to slip chilli powder in that woman’s Immac cream at every chance she gets.

The contestants are the same as ever, dribbling out the same songs as though nothing new has been released since 2002, and if Total Eclipse of the Heart hasn’t yet been warbled by one of Jowl’s tuneless twits then it can’t be long before it makes its 2014 debut.

Thankfully I must have missed anything screening Cheryl Cantpronouncehernamenow because she is as well equipped to give singing advice as Jimmy Saville was child protection. These days, having a singing career does not equate to having singing ability. Just ask Jedward.

The contestants themselves were the same as always, each with their fair share of personal tragedy to weep over, and when the SEE advert featuring an Orangutan popped up in the final ad break, it took a second to register that it was indeed an advertisement, and not another of Jowl’s chimps. It wasn’t the lack of singing of course that gave this away, more the fact that the dear little creature was in receipt of obvious talent.

The only saving grace is that this will not be followed by another series of Plebs Wobbling On Ice in the New Year. Small mercies.

Telling your kids how babies are made… Eek

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Courtesy of

First published in the Portsmouth News, Tuesday 7th October 2014

Something tricky arises once you have a family: the smaller members begin to wonder just how you went about getting them.

My eldest daughter spent a couple of years occasionally questioning how mummies and daddies went about the process of acquiring their babies. I managed to buffer these vagaries and head them off at the pass, always pleased with myself for having dodged the bullet again.

Until last spring.

India finally took it upon herself at Easter to begin formulating very direct questions: questions that appeared to require very direct answers. Curiously, no sooner had she uttered the words, “How did you and daddy put babies into your tummy? How exactly did we get there?”, than my husband mysteriously disappeared, vanishing into the ether of garden safety and tending to the chicken run with more diligence than I’d seen in a while.

I took a deep breath and, out of earshot of her younger sibling, gave a brief run down of how exactly babies are made, and what goes where.

I shudder at the memory, for it turns out that telling your daughter the whereabouts of particular key parts of anatomy, parts that are usually associated with expelling wee, can be mighty embarrassing. I stood there feeling like a form of sexual deviant, who should be clad in Marigolds and spritzing surface cleaner about herself in the manner of Impulse in the 1980s.

India cocked her head to one side upon hearing my biology lesson and computed this news to relate directly to her parents. The astonishing revelation of what exactly her twisted folks must have got up to in order to make herself and her sister caused her to draw her little brows together in puzzlement and, in her beautiful child’s logic, she piped up with the classic line, “Eew. Well at least you only had to do it twice mummy. Once for me and once for Amelie.”

And with that she was off, back downstairs to play with her toys and her ill-gotten sister. She’s never mentioned it again since, which always seems to be the way with kids – they simply accept things – unlike adults, who fight against it all with a cynical kind of logic that doesn’t exist when we are younger.

I suppose I should be thankful. When I pestered the answer out of my own mother I already knew how babies were made. I just wanted to see her admit it!