Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Are we too busy to play with the kids or are we too idle?

A UNICEF report says that the British don't spend enough time with their children because they're too busy. This is a theme that seems to go unchallenged by the commentariat and politicians. They were talking about it on the World At One just now. "We all live busy lives" is one of those clich├ęs that is passed on and never examined as if that's just the inevitable price we pay for the life we lead, a bit like electricity and traffic.

The word "busy" implies that we're doing something important like work or cooking or checking our tax returns. But what we're probably "busy" doing in that time is watching TV. A recent survey found that the British watched an average of three hours forty five minutes every day. If they're being as honest as I am when the doctor asks me how much I drink in an average week, they're probably underestimating those hours.

Let's say they're watching four hours a day. That's 1,456 hours a year. That's almost sixty-one whole days a year spent watching TV. Even if you accept that some of the programmes we're watching might be passing on some worthwhile information, such as the value of spending more time with our children or going for a bracing walk, that's a mind-boggling share of time.

And if Twitter is anything to go by the people doing the heavy watching are just as likely to be the university-educated sorts with their iPads on their laps as the Jim Royles of this world. We're not busy. Just idle.


  1. Seriously, where do people find 4 hours of TV to watch everyday? There are a couple of comedy shows I watch in a week and at the moment I watch the cycling on ITV 4. That's pretty much it. Of course, sometimes there are other things but not often enough to get me to an average anywhere near 4 hours.

  2. Has it really ever been any different - it's just a new set of distractions. As a tot, and an only child, I occasionally played with mum. Rarely with dad. Sunday morning all you'd see of him until The Big Match (and most male neighbours) were shins and shoes poking out from under the car. Bank holidays he'd be decorating or busying about with brushes. Evenings though we'd drop in front of the TV and watch whatever was on. That was all we both needed.

    With my two - it's like Cat's in the Cradle in reverse. They're prodding about on Facebook, gaming or Youtubing. Apart from Shooting Stars, Harry Hill and Dr Who - they're too busy interacting with their offstage mates to boggle at pre-programmed TV of an evening. Until I bounce them off the laptop for my own go that is

  3. credit/blame Thatcher, Lawson and Walters. They created a need for two income families. Without which we could not have sustained the consumer service economy for as long as we did.
    Children enjoyed the gadgets, parents enjoyed the children enjoying them.

  4. The same argument is regularly trotted out when it comes to food. It's the same people who 'don't have time to cook' that are sat on their fat arses watching Dancing On Acid whilst eating, what purports to be, chicken out of a bucket.

  5. I've never really got why watching telly is described as being idle, and looked down upon so. This week I have watched a documentary on the Khmer Rouge, some rugby, the news, Who Do You Think You Are, some of Bestival 2011, Outnumbered, a couple of house programmes, stuff like that. Fairly middle brow, undemanding stuff, and about an hour a day, actually more if you count the rugby. Not sure about everyone else, but most of my life is either work or bittersweet obligations involving friends and family. I like to switch off and be mildly entertained. Please let me.

  6. Yes John, that's my wife, that is.

  7. I thought kids these days were all supposed to be over-parented, coddled by so-called "helicopter parents" with every family activity and decision based around what the kids want?

    Which is it?