"DAD, have you seen this in The TES?"
I can't quite recall what it is we're supposed to hear being emitted from the mouth of babes and sucklings, but I think it's supposed to startle. Certainly, the fact that my daughters were reading last week's edition of The TES threw me. They were, after all, far too young to be looking for a new job or saving coupons for that exciting new Estelle Morris poster. But in fact, what Ginny and Sarah were doing was quoting from something I'd written about a new report into the exploitative nature of programmes like Michael Barrymore's Kids say the kind of thing that keeps me in work.
As a father, my initial reaction was to be quite chuffed. Here were my own offspring reading an example of the very work that pays for their glitterglow face packs and novelty foot balms. It was a bit like the Blair kids piping up and asking: "Hey, Dad, was it you on TV last night, doing all that waving and smiling?" To date, Ginny and Sarah have taken precious little interest in the fact that thiscolumn has been appearing now for three years. As for Tom, on the one occasion when I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said he'd rather not work at all. "Can't I just sit and play with the computer all day like you do?"
So I was pleased. At least at first. "You say here that this report is critical of TV shows that use children for cheap laughs," Sarah informed me. "And that programme-makers shouldn't just seek permission from parents but from the kids themselves."
"Absolutely," I replied.
"After all, what kind of parent allows their child to be humiliated for the amusement of adults?" observed Ginny at her most sphinx-like. "Well, we don't remember you asking if you could write about us."
It's always rather a shock to be brought up short by one's children, but mine are growing up. These babes and sucklings are no longer happy to have their utterances amusingly recycled and I must respect that. Their mouths may not be silent, but henceforth my lips are sealed.