Real-life TV in need of a dose of reality

31st August 2001 at 01:00
few months back BBC2 screened a documentary, Little Women, which followed a group of seven to-12-year-olds around as they went on a spending spree of clothes, make-up and junk food. For those of us with daughters in this age group it was compulsive viewing.

Over the summer break, which I have been enjoying with my own daughter, I was reminded of a phrase from one of the programme's commentators, who described the parents of the children under scrutiny as "cash-rich and time-poor" - and thus ripe for exploitation by their offspring.

The programme made me squirm a bit: I belong to the time-rich, cash-poor of this country. I'm one of those whose kid gets driven to tears at school by the bragging of the little consumers.

Most of the time, my daughter claims to enjoy the fun my home-based status affords. The rest of the time I reckon she rather wishes that I'd go out and get a bloody job so she can have her own computer, telly in her bedroom (and a bigger bedroom), a mobile phone, any clothes she likes, etc.

This I am told, is what "everyone" has. "Everyone", apparently, also hangs out at the mall on a Saturday morning when she is in music school. "Everyone", I retort, is not my child, nor lives in my house, nor has to survive on my teacher husband's money. I begin to sound more like my mother every day.

Holidays are when I try to re-establish my heroine status in my daughter's eyes. After every holiday, I hope she will be the "everyone" her mates seek to emulate. No, that will be the kid who went on a ski trip, won't it? Darn. There was I thinking I would get to thumb my nose at cash-rich, time-poor parents at last. This, you understand, is only a bonus to my main aim as a home-parent; spending as much time with my offspring as either of us can stand, and making that time as productive as I can.

Thus, while the children of the cash-rich, time-poor languished, poor darlings, in their rooms all last half term, surrounded by their own computers, TV sets and stereos, chatting and texting endlessly on their mobile phones, my daughter and I were painting London red. After all, there's a lot in London tailor-made for us time-rich, cash-poor parents.

After the obligatory lie-in on the first Saturday of the holidays, surrounded by loot garnered from libraries the night before, we set off for a long swim.

On Sunday, a walk and games in the park. On Monday, a lie-in with library loot followed by a swim. On Tuesday, a trip to the Poetry library, stopping for free jazz at the Royal Festival Hall, then a walk along the South Bank, dropping into the Tate Modern.

Midweek it was a long family bike ride and picnic, then Thursday, helping Daughter with homework, followed by a trip to Covent Garden. to watch the jugglers and clowns. On Friday, a visit to the Quentin Blake exhibition at the National Gallery, a wander through St Martin's market and the bookshops of Charing Cross Road. Then, on the extra Monday, the Science Museum.

But with all this going on for the two categories of children I've mentioned, what of the other two? The ones who have both time and money, and the ones who have neither?

The former doesn't concern me much, since I don't encounter the moneyed and leisured classes often. Though I suspect our first attempt at the Science Museum last half-term was aborted due not only to the crowds of time-rich, cash-poor, but also legions of the time and cash-rich. The ringing of tills in the gallery shops and cafes bore testimony to this.

Meanwhile, we'd left at home, or at least on the other side of our garden wall, the legions of the doubly deprived. Children of parents both time and cash-poor - parents who have to say no when the kids want time as well as when they want the latest trainers.

Every holiday the legions of the bored gather in the open space beyond our garden wall. They get up every day, find a football and proceed to thump it against our wall morning till night. Our less patient neighbours are, by midweek, usually threatening to call the police and withhold balls.

The teachers of these kids can be sure of getting two things after each holiday: the explosive aftermath of that boredom, and holiday diaries and essays which would need a lot of imagination to be anything but dismal.

But they wouldn't make very interesting TV would they? So we can be damned sure of never being discomfited by them on the box.

Shereen Pandit is a short-story writer and poet

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