As the next generation moves towards further digitalisation, children are losing touch with traditional hands-on creativity
Everyone had a favourite television programme growing up, whether it was the utterly terrifying Demon Headmaster, the pure genius of Blue Peter, or the downright bizarre (but nonetheless glorious) offerings of Round the Twist.
I’m talking about the golden, pre-digital era, when kids’ TV had its own special slot, slap-bang between daytime and grown-up evening output. Okay, so maybe I’m looking back on the pre-digital era through my ever-so-slightly rose-tinted spectacles. But with an abundance of new digital channels dedicated purely to the entertainment of children, how has content changed – and is it really for the better?
A constant stream of high quality and educationally stimulating entertainment for children? Sounds fantastic… in theory. But whilst this concept is appealing, unavoidable factors, including a limited budget and more time than ever to fill, are forcing channels to repeat old series. A quick glance at a typical week on CBBC is enough to highlight this inevitable trend in scheduling. Of course, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, assuming the standard of the repeats being aired is high.
There’s no denying that children’s television, and moreover the way in which it is consumed, has changed dramatically over the past decade. With increased competition from adult programmes, along with the surge in satellite channels, kids’ shows are increasingly moving to their own specialised channels, and thus away from terrestrial output. This means that audiences can now choose whether or not to bypass kids’ TV altogether, or to actively switch over to the likes of CBBC or Nickelodeon Kids. With reduced “kids only” time scheduled into terrestrial channels, children are also increasingly able to opt for shows aimed at older audiences.
But does this mean that children’s entertainment needs are maturing quicker? Or is it merely a shift in the content that they are being exposed to?
Either way, programmers are reacting as they battle to maintain young audiences. One marked reaction by TV schedulers is the decrease in more traditional children’s entertainment. Iconic shows such as Blue Peter are being awarded reduced airtime in a bid to prioritise technology and science-focused shows. One prime example, and one particularly close to my heart, is the tragic loss of the Blue Peter pets.
Are digitally aware youngsters really uninterested in caring for animals? I mean, who in their right mind didn’t enjoy watching George the tortoise being packaged away for his winter hibernation?
Don’t get me wrong, getting kids excited about science and technology is by no means a bad thing – we’re living in a digitally driven society, after all. But while I recognise the importance of ensuring that children are computer and multi-media literate, I don’t believe this means that children will no longer benefit from learning about cooking and arts and crafts. These types of activities are not only teaching valuable life skills, but also allowing for self-expression and emotional development.
This leads me onto my final point of discussion: Education. An engaging kids show requires more than mindless fun and games (we’ll just ignore Dick and Dom, shall we?). As children are among the most impressionable of television audiences, it is vital that programmes be educationally stimulating as well as engaging and lots of fun. Perhaps more so than ever before, there is increased emphasis placed upon ensuring that key areas of the curriculum are covered, which is great, but I think it’s also important to remember the significance of skills such as cookery and craft in aiding a child’s development.
Everyone agrees that children’s television needs to educate and entertain its impressionable audience, and for a generation of children growing up in a digital era, it is vital that this incorporates the relevant aspects of technology. After all, these digital skills will be required in order to study, work and even communicate effectively. Most importantly, children’s television should reflect the interests of its young audiences. But it must also invite children to partake in entertainment and activities that they may otherwise miss out on. If children are spending more time than ever before in front of a screen (whether a TV, computer, or iPad), it is our job to ensure that this generation learns to knit, bake and make.
What if children no longer transformed old washing-up bottles into rockets, or cardboard boxes into nativity scenes? It doesn’t bear thinking about. So let’s look for innovative ways to teach children about digital media. Let us use technology to enhance traditional activities. Being crafty and creative can be more interactive, and cookery can be shared. Does it really have to be a case of digital versus creative?
Image from: http://www.theweek.co.uk/
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