Dear Ted

21st November 2003 at 00:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

I teach reception children who regularly tell me about films they've seen that I wouldn't let my own children of 11 and 12 watch. Should I stay quiet or talk to their parents?

Ted says

Their parents might, unfortunately, be condoning it. Few children of that age winkle out a well-hidden video and put it on for themselves. It is likely that most sit alongside their parents, with no sanctions.

You could raise the matter at a parents' meeting, or send a letter home about it. The problem is that some parents who allow young children to watch unsuitable videos may not come to the meeting, nor bother to read the letter.

Evidence about the effects of videos on young children is mixed. Some studies claim that certain types of film may cause considerable disturbance, others that there is little serious impact. It depends very much on the images being portrayed. The "violence" in a Tom and Jerry cartoon is not as harrowing as the blood and gore of a realistic film with human characters.

If children are relating tales in class from films with undesirable images, then it is appropriate to raise the matter with their parents. But you must tread carefully. Some children of this age may simply be retelling overheard stories, claiming to have seen the original to impress their classmates. Wrongly accusing parents of having such videos would, understandably, cause outrage.

If parents are inaccessible, try raising the matter with the children themselves. Great care is needed not to insult or accuse innocent families, but it can be discussed via a fictitious storyline: "Billy Bear (try an animal, avoid using the name of someone in the class) is five years old like you. One night his big brother Bonzo Bear puts on a bad video that children shouldn't watch. What do you think Billy Bear should do?" This can then branch out to a wider debate.

You say

Staying quiet isn't an option

I'm a teaching assistant in a primary school where some children as young as six have told me they've watched similar adult films. I find this can seriously affect their mood and behaviour to the point where I have been forced to ask a mother if her child could stop playing a fighting game on his PlayStation before school (her son has emotional and behavioural difficulties and receives extra support).

We have the whole welfare of the child to consider and some parents perhaps are unaware of the possible effects of adult entertainment and the state their children are in. You must say something!

Fiona Horrill, Crawley

Are there any other danger signs?

First listen to the pupils to see if they have actually watched them or have simply listened to older people discussing the plots (still not ideal in front of small children).

If you still believe that they are watching these films, consider the child as a whole. Are there other risk factors such as inadequate clothing or coming to school hungry? In my experience, inappropriate TV viewing is often part of a lifestyle in which children are expected to fit in with adults and are not given the care they need.

If you think that all these factors add up to a cause for concern, you should speak to your head or other member of senior management responsible for child protection.

Margaret Raine, Houghton-le-Spring

It's none of your business

I think you are overreaching yourself on this one. While you might privately disapprove of your reception-class children watching "unsuitable" films, it does not fall within your professional remit to intervene. I think you should stay well away from this issue. There is a danger you may be perceived by parents - and possibly by other members of staff - as an interfering do-gooder.

Not only is your intervening unlikely to change anyone's family viewing habits, but it is likely to undermine your credibility with regards to other issues concerning the home-school relationship.

There is a line to be drawn on matters of what goes on in the home, and how much this may be of legitimate concern to teachers. You are inviting problems if you draw this line in the wrong place.

Richard Lloyd, Gwent

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