Image: Paul Husband/CBeebies

Children’s TV: Why is it so important?

Many of us have a fondness for the shows we watched growing up, with each generation having their favourites and insisting that the shows they watched were superior to any other generation’s. Perhaps it is because I study history, but there certainly seems to be a strong affection for Horrible Histories among people our age (or maybe for some of us it is an appreciation for Mathew Baynton as Dick Turpin). But the importance of children’s TV is more than just being introduced to hot highwaymen – it is a powerful medium for shaping young minds at a crucial stage of development. When done properly, it teaches children social skills and more traditional educational skills such as English and maths, regardless of their income background. If ministers do decide to cut funding for public broadcasting kids’ shows by not renewing the Young Audiences Content Fund, then it would be a great loss to British-made children’s TV shows that are both educational and inclusive, especially when harmful content is readily available online.  

Children’s TV is more than just a tool for guardians to get some well-earned respite – it is a lens that many children use to view the world

Children’s TV can foster interests that are not usually encouraged for an audience used to being bombarded with gendered messaging. Science programmes such as Operation Ouch! or Nina and the Neurons are not only educational, but also do not specifically target a single gender, which enables them to show science in an exciting way whilst still not alienating girls. Gender neutral programming can empower children, especially in a society that steers girls away from certain interests. It can be seen through the gendered stereotyping of toys; ones with a STEM focus are three times as likely to be targeted at boys than girls. Children’s TV has an importance in trying to redress this balance, and brings interests often attributed to a certain gender to a wider audience.  

Unlike the rich variety of children’s TV shows, platforms like Youtube use algorithms to promote content, and so children are bombarded with the same kind of content. This content is also unregulated, and, despite the creation of Youtube Kids, which was made to provide a safer experience for children by filtering out harmful content, there have been numerous cases of children found to be watching harmful content disguised as child-friendly shows. Disturbing videos made to look like popular kids’ shows such as Peppa Pig were found to show violent and sadistic content, with one example of a fake Peppa Pig episode being shown to set fire to a house with the intention of killing other characters. Children cannot understand the difference between these ones and the ones made by the original creators, so consume distressing content of their favourite TV characters. Youtube has outwardly tried to filter out harmful content, and has made statements on its reviewing of videos and removal of inappropriate content, but ultimately, it is not a platform made for children. It prioritises engagement and its commercial interests, unlike the ‘educate, entertain and inform’ mantra that the BBC strives for in their programming, including children’s TV.

Inclusive and high-quality programming for all children … is something that should never be taken for granted

Children’s public broadcasting is chiefly important, not because of John Whittingdale’s, former Media minister, commitment to “distinctly British” programming, but because of the inclusivity that is far ahead of its commercial competitors. Normalising difference is incredibly powerful, especially at a young age. When children have a lack of understanding of difference, they can be incredibly cruel – anyone who has been bullied as a child or teenager can testify to this. There is a fear and ignorance around disability – I worked as playworker with disabled children, and when we were at a playground, other children would stare and move away as soon as the children we were looking after used the same play equipment as them. One in 20 children in the UK have a disability, and it is important that these children feel accepted and equal among their peers. The introduction this year of George Webster as CBeebies’ first presenter with Down’s syndrome was incredibly normalised: there was no mention of his disability or any kind of special treatment given. There are still not enough disabled people on our TV screens, but commercial broadcasters have even more catching up to do, with Disney Channel and Nickelodeon not featuring a single show with a disabled character as a main character. CBeebies and CBBC seamlessly integrate disabled characters into their programming, and have been doing so for over a decade. CBeebies’ Pablo centres around an autistic character, its long-running show Something Special features Mr Tumble, who uses the sign language Makaton, and shows with bigger casts on CBBC such as Grange Hill and The Story of Tracy Beaker have had numerous characters with disabilities. Maybe the rest of the TV industry can learn a thing or two from children’s public broadcasting.  

 

Children’s TV is more than just a tool for guardians to get some well-earned respite – it is a lens that many children use to view the world, one that is spent increasingly glued to screens. Some may argue that it stops children from going outside and experiencing the real world, but what is more real than seeing people from different backgrounds that are like them, and feeling welcome in the society they’re growing up in. And, the reality is, children will be watching some form of entertainment regardless, so to have such inclusive and high-quality programming for all children free of charge in this country is something that should never be taken for granted.

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