They may look cute: a friendly talking creature of the porcine variety and a blue doll with a red blanket obsession.
But it seems Peppa Pig and Iggle Piggle aren't as harmless as they look. According to a psychologist, too much time spent watching the antics of TV characters could seriously damage your child's health. Dr Aric Sigman is calling for guidelines on the amount of screen time to which children can safely be exposed – including strictly no telly for toddlers.
Writing in the Archives Of Disease In Childhood, Sigman says the average British seven-year-old will already have spent an entire year glued to TV, computers and video games. By 18, they will have clocked up three years worth of screen time.
Sigman believes this is a serious public health issue and other experts have backed this view. According to Professor Mitch Blair, officer for health promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, paediatricians are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of screen time on "the rapidly developing brain in children and young people".
But is this just yet another moral panic? Most adults have vivid memories of happy times spent in front of the box as youngsters. Fast-forward a few decades and endless discussions can still be had about, for example, how terrifying Worzel Gummidge was. "It didn't do me any harm," goes the chorus (except, perhaps, for that lifelong fear of creepy scarecrows ...).
Sometimes television could even be educational. I can't be the only one whose early interest in current affairs was sparked by religiously watching John Craven's Newsround after school. What's more, keeping up with programmes was an essential part of fitting in when it came to the brutal world of the playground. Who wanted to be the weird kid in the corner who didn't have a clue about how to pretend to be the popular cartoon character of the day, or was shamefully ignorant of the latest scandal at Grange Hill?
From the sound of it, those shunned kids could well include the offspring of Gwyneth Paltrow, who only allows her children to watch television in French and Spanish, according to recent reports. Back in the real world, most parents are just eternally grateful for any moments of peace that television programmes or computer games can bring.
Yet who doesn't feel unease about the sad image of a kid glued endlessly to a screen while the essential elements of childhood – playing outside, hanging out with friends – pass by? Today, there are more screen opportunities than ever before in the form of mobile phones, games consoles, TVs and laptops. In the 1950s, youngsters had access to less than 500 hours of children's television every year. Now there's a never-ending supply, with entire channels dedicated to children's viewing and the ability to record or catch up at the touch of a button.
As well as being blamed for contributing to the obesity epidemic, excess screen time has been linked to everything from eyesight problems and sleep disruption to diabetes and autism in children. Two years ago a medical journal reported the alarming case of a three-year-old boy who had became obsessed by Thomas The Tank Engine after being allowed to watch five hours of television a day. When he wouldn't stop parroting phrases from the cartoons, doctors in California feared his communication and social development risked being impaired.
While this is an extreme example, Sigman's concerns are being taken seriously in other countries. Four years ago, French channels were banned from airing TV shows aimed at under-threes. In America, health officials want under-twos to watch no television at all, and advise that older children aged up to 18 should be limited to two hours of screen time a day.
Critics point out there is scant evidence to support theories around the impact of watching screens on brain development. And perhaps banning the likes of Iggle Piggle would be a step too far. However, until more is known, surely it makes sense to reach for the off button more often. Parents might be horrified at the thought of battles over the remote control and endless complaints about having nothing to do. But a little boredom might just help to trigger some creativity – which won't be found spending hours in front of a screen.
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