An open letter to the manager of David Lloyd Leisure.
When the excellent new children’s area opened at my local David Lloyd club over a year ago, I wrote to you remarking that I felt the area was very much spoilt by the presence of television screens, and requesting that their inclusion be reconsidered. I pointed out that there were no other soft play facilities in the city, that I am aware of, that have TV screens, and that I felt their presence was disruptive to the children’s play.
Your response reported that the TVs had received ‘mixed reviews’ from parents, but that some liked having them there.
Over the last 18 months I have used this facility regularly. My child very much enjoys the time he spends there – it has become familiar to him, as have the staff, and other children who go there regularly, making him feel comfortable and relaxed there and able to enjoy all it has to offer. As well as taking part in some of the organised activities, he very much likes spending time in the play area with other children. He is an only child, and this social aspect of the club is of great benefit to him.
However, I have repeatedly observed during our visits there, the negative effect of the TV screens on this social aspect of the children’s play. One of the screens is visible from all angles of the main play area, including from the soft play structure. On every visit, I have observed how these screens distract from and interfere with the children’s play. Their attention is repeatedly drawn towards the screen. Some children are unable to draw themselves away from it, and end up leaving off their play with the other children to sit in the play structure staring at the screen, despite being often unable to hear the sound. Those children who are able to re-focus their attention away from the screen do so only to have it drawn back at frequent and regular intervals. This is disruptive to the flow of their play and their thoughts.
If you observe the children’s play closely enough you will see that they are doing more than simply enjoying the physical aspects of the climbing structure and slide. They are often engaged in some sort of imaginative, creative, make believe play. They devise their own rules and roles, negotiate and interact with each other, create fantasies. This type of play is extremely beneficial to children, yet sadly something for which there are fewer opportunities today, with the introduction of homework at younger ages, more scheduled activities, fear of allowing children to play out, and of course, screen technology. I therefore feel opportunities for this type of play are valuable and should be facilitated as much as possible. However, it’s certainly not facilitated by the constant distraction of TV screens.
I have also observed other parents at the facility. Contrary to your assertions, I have not seen any that appear to welcome the presence of the TV. In fact I often see parents struggling to get their children to finish their meals because they are distracted by the TV. On a number of occasions I have asked parents if they object to my turning the TV off. They have always been more than happy for me to do so. However, I find that the staff appear to have been instructed to ensure the TV is on at all times. When I have pointed out that I, and others, do not want it on, they have simply put it on with the sound down – as I have illustrated above, this is not conducive to the social interaction and creative, imaginative play that the children are trying to engage in.
I also wonder if your staff are aware that the CBBC channel is actually intended for children aged 6 to 12. Yet the majority of children using the facility are younger than this, and many of the programmes on this channel unsuitable for them.
As I mentioned in my original correspondence with you, children are unable to self-regulate. If a TV screen is there they will watch it, whether or not they find the content disturbing, and whether or not there are better things to do. There have been many studies that show the negative effects of background TV on children’s play and attention spans.
Childhood today is already encroached upon enough by the existence of screen technology. Please ask yourself again if the TV screens in the children’s area at your club are really necessary, or indeed wanted by the parents, or beneficial to the children.
A long-time club member, concerned parent, and advocate of children’s play.
*After receiving this letter, the manager of the club telephoned me to say that they would be turning the TV off in the children’s play area on a trial basis.