If our toddlers had been outside playing in the 'fresh air', speaking words precociously or giggling with delight at something 'real', we would have happily celebrated this behaviour. But we weren't about to admit that our children were excited about television. Being happy about our children watching the 'idiot box' was not something we could admit to. Troubled by what her daughter was watching, and by how this made her feel as a parent, Emily Booker set out to learn more about children and television, listening not only to scholars and experts in the field, but also to children themselves. What she found was that the 'problem' of children's addiction to screens is actually, in part, a grown-ups' problem. Speaking to children about what they watch and why reveals a steadily consistent response: they love to seek out programs that are 'fun'. But their choices are often a source of anxiety for parents, and appear to provoke a need to censure and control the child's enjoyment. At a time when children's lives are increasingly regulated, and the pressures of parenting are felt ever more keenly, this important book teaches us much about the value of entertainment, not only for children but also for adults.
The book would examine the history of just how we have arrived at this place - where we condemn the pleasures our children enjoy and seek to protect them from the lurking violence and sexual threats of the ubiquitous screens. And most importantly it examines what children themselves say about their own reactions to television - arguably filling in a significant gap in the debate. The contrast between these opposing views is a fascinating part of the book.
To support its rather controversial stand on this topic, the book draws on significant research to suggest that we should celebrate rather than condemn the pleasure that television brings children. It argues that encouraging such pleasure in entertainment is perhaps even more imperative in an age where children's time is increasingly programmed and regulated. Television offers a space for children to have fun - to 'goof off' as one 8-year-old boy said to me, or to disappear into an imaginative world. As an 8-year-old girl told me during my research: 'it means that I can have a little world of monsters or anything'. And as the book points out, this essential value of entertainment was celebrated by one of the greatest entertainers of all time - Shakespeare himself.