This week we were talking to some parents about their babies’ screen time. It’s hard to find statistics on babies’ media use, but we know that in 2018 96% of three and four year olds were watching television, on average for 14 hours per week. It’s also hard to find firm guidance about whether babies should be watching television, and for how long. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that the only type of digital media that children under 18 months should be engaging with is video calling; the NHS suggests that television for under twos should be limited to 30 minutes per day. So whilst we might not have a definitive answer on how many babies are watching television – and whether they should be – anecdotally we know that it’s common for babies to be watching tv.
One programme that babies and young children are possibly going to be watching is Teletubbies. Originally broadcast between 1997-2001, the programme was revived in 2015 and 425 episodes have been made to date. When the programme was restarted in 2015 the BBC described it as “one of the most successful global children’s programmes of all time” and said that the original series had been had been seen by over a billion children, in over 120 territories in 45 different languages.
We are both fans of the programme and were interested to find out whether any research has been carried out about it – should parents make time for Teletubbies? Findings about the benefits of the programme are mixed. Pempek et al. (2010) conducted an experiment where children between 6 and 24 months old were shown normal and distorted versions of the programme. They found that “it remains to be determined what, if anything, infants comprehend in commercial infant-directed videos” and therefore “if there is, in fact, little comprehension, then the time spent watching television may well be time better spent engaged in other activities such as toy play” (p.1292). Yet Marsh (2000)’s study found that using Teletubbies as a stimulus in literacy activities created a shared discourse and shared understandings between children and supported their reading, writing and oral work. Meanwhile Buckingham (1999) theorises as to why adults like us might like the programme – perhaps because they might see it as a form of “regression” but also because the Teletubbies could be seen as “a necessary process of recovering childlike pleasures – in silly noises and games, in anarchy and absurdity, for which irony provides a convenient alibi” (p.293).
We are going to continue to make time for Teletubbies. But what do you think – should children?