The Lady's Guide To Modern Manners: 4th May

Dear Thomas,
Having our grandchildren to stay over the Easter holidays, we were quite dismayed by their viewing habits. They all have their own devices – iPads, etc – and watch their own thing. So they’re looking at different programmes and neither myself nor my husband had any idea what they were. Their parents assured us there were strict parental controls on their devices. But that isn’t the point. Whatever happened to family viewing and all the things you have together from that?

Martine Hanbury,
Market Harborough

Dear Martine,

This trend is not confined to your family. The annual Childwise report shows for the first time that children aged between five and 16 are more likely to watch TV on their laptop or mobile phone. What’s more, they go in for binge-viewing: back-to-back episodes of a favourite show. Their choices are often dictated by algorithms that process previous choices and offer content they are predicted to like. So they will never try anything new, let alone be compelled to watch something they might initially loathe but eventually come to enjoy. So children are home alone with their families. As for Watch with Mother: forget it.

But we must beware falling into an automatic ‘Down with children and young people’ trap. Fragmented viewing is a trend across all age groups. Only rarely now does a TV show galvanise the entire nation so everybody is talking about it. People often tell you about something marvellous they’ve seen on some TV channel you’ve never heard of, but you never get round to seeing it, because you’ve got a backlog of other shows you’ve got to catch up on iPlayer and so on. The challenge these days, with so many shows, a lot of them immensely long, is to pare down one’s viewing to manageable proportions. All too often I can’t even remember which shows I’m riveted by that I’m halfway through watching.

Children must experience this too; if they learn to organise their viewing, that’s no bad thing. Also, not all their choices will be controlled by algorithms; maybe they will make independent selections or respond to suggestions from their friends. Perhaps now they have more independence than previous generations who were swept up in mass mania for certain shows. In the 1980s there wasn’t a child in the country who wasn’t a huge fan of Neighbours. Was this so marvellous? Parents, grandparents, indeed any adult, still have the power to ask children about their viewing, to make time for the family to get together to look at each other’s choices, discuss them, think about what they would recommend to other family members and so on. The solitary viewing thing doesn’t have to be given in to entirely.