It was a phrase I first heard in the late 1980s that ‘children are more sophisticated today’.
It was used as a deceitful excuse for removing budgets from children’s television by canceling many programmes that had run for years, including the pre-school programme Play School, which had run for 24 years, Play Away, Crackajack and others to fund breakfast television. What was cut from the schedule were the quaint, gentle and silly programmes for young children.
The it was used to justify lowering the certificate rating on films and video releases.
It’s used to today to justify fast moving, complex, sophisticated themed children’s programming, use of computers and computer gaming.
I’ve been experimenting on some unwitting children. I found an episode of Andy Pandy on YouTube. It was an example of one of the very first British children’s television programmes (when CBeebies was called Watch with Mother). The episode was from 16th September 1952.
I sat down with my own children (aged 6, 4 and 18 months) watch it. A programme from 60 years ago. The target demographic for that episode when it was made would now be 63 to 67 years old. The makers of that programme are most probably no longer with us.
It was 15 minutes long, in black and white, low definition and in 4:3 ratio. But my children loved it. They laughed at the funny bits. They warmed to the characters straight away. Here they were, in the unimaginably distant future watching and enjoying a programme made for their grandparents.
How could modern, sophisticated 21st century children possibly stomach such a basic, simplistic, primordial out-of-date piece of television?
Because children are the same as they’ve ever been.
My children are very familiar with the current pre-school television programme, In the Night Garden. It was made by Ragdoll productions, the same company that made Telletubbies for late 90s children and Rosie and Jim for early 90s children. To an adult the programme seems like the most bizarre convoluted jungle of nonsense, “Iggle Piggle rides the Ninky Nonk with his friend Upsy Daisy to visit the Tombliboos as Macka Paka polishes his stones”
It was carefully designed as a bedtime hour programme to tell simple stories set in a garden for very young children before their bedtime.
Let’s compare Andy Pandy and In the Night Garden. They both have the same running length and are narrated by an unseen narrator. They are both set in a garden in an undisclosed location. They both feature toy-like creatures who come to life.
But hang on they’re not just similar, they’re almost EXACTLY the same. Iggle Piggle IS Andy Pandy. Upsy Daisy is Loopy Loo. Macka Paka IS Teddy. When a character appears they each sing and dance their own signature tune.
In the Night Garden IS Andy Pandy. It’s the same. The only difference is the technology of their production and that’s not relevant to their enjoyment unless we as adults have made it so.
Children of any age respond to the same stuff because children have not, and do not, change. They want fun. They want play. They think falling over is funny.
Children are not ‘more sophisticated’, they’re children. They don’t expect or demand more sophisticated entertainment because they are children, they don’t expect anything. They don’t compare anything to anything unless adults do that for them.
If parents and teachers ‘condition’ children, through action or inaction, then children will become to expect certain things. Children create their world view from the environment they’re in. They have no control over that environment. Only parents and teachers do, so any change in children is not some mysterious evolution, but trackable changes made by particular people on particular children.
For many children as soon as they are able to walk and talk, there is an emphasis begin to remove what is considered babyish entertainment.
It’s as if we want out children to grow up fast by forcing adult themed entertainment on them as soon as possible.
Moving images affect people. They affect mood and outlook. They can modify and change behaviour. Violent imagery can and does begat violent behaviour.
Barry Norman, the one time film expert and presenter once said that it was nonsense that people were affected by violence in films. He made the classic mistake. What he should have said that he wasn’t affected by violence in films. Clearly some people are and it’s usually vulnerable people and it’s certainly true for children.
Some children are labeled as ‘sensitive’ as if its some kind of flaw that a frightening adult themed piece of ‘entertainment’ gave them nightmares or caused them to wet the bed. It’s somehow braver and worthy of merit that a child can stomach violence, killing, brutality and cruelty without being affected.
In 1982 I was sickened to know some of my friends were playing a computer game where the object was to run over cats in the road (I was 11). That game used less than 48k of computer memory, it wasn’t any more sophisticated than the joke in a Christmas cracker. But todays computer games are photorealistic. You can kill, torture and rape people and it all looks very real.
In a report from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference this year, teachers have reported that children have increased aggression and more violent as they are being left unsupervised by their parents to play inappropriate computer games.
You can read the original report here.
“Pupils as young as four are acting out “graphic scenes” from games in class and in the playground… there are fears youngsters cannot separate fantasy worlds from reality.”
“…I watched my class out on the playground throwing themselves out of the window of the play car in slow motion and acting out blood spurting from their bodies,”
“Out of 27, four or five-year-olds, most have TVs and laptops in their bedrooms, most have sight of or actually own Nintendos, playstation, Xboxes and Wii and many said they watched older brothers, sisters and cousins playing games.”
“… and there is a lot more hitting, hurting, thumping etc in the classroom for no particular reason.”
The myth that children are tech-savvy future-focused intellectually advanced gadget geniuses is nonsense. It’s placing our prejudices and failings onto them and making excuses or simply not noticing that age inappropriate material is so easily accessed by young children..
They are children. They just want to play. And they’ll play, learn and develop along the lines of whatever we give them.
And that’s the secret to their success, if we don’t kill off their creative play before they get to learn from it.
Douglas Adams (philosopher and author of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy) said there are rules to how we view and relate to ‘technology’:
“Everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal; anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it; anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really. Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.”
Technology is unimportant to pre-school and early years children. The adult themed worlds of fast moving action, violence, anti-heroes and realistic graphic representations of the world are not required and are damaging to a developing imagination.
We need to take better care of our children to provide better suited entertainment and education that helps them grow in a positive way that will give them (and us) a better society in the very near future. If we end up with a society in 60 years time that is cruel, uncomfortable, impersonable and violent, we’ll only have ourselves to blame.
(We’ve also watched Button Moon, perhaps the most unsophisticated of children’s programmes every made. And they loved that too…)
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