After an intensive few months watching children's television with my young son I have come to the conclusion that our kids have access to much better shows than adults – at least on the free-to-air networks.
While us parents are faced with abominations such as Married At First Sight and yet another season of, yawn, My Kitchen Rules and The X Factor, our tiny tots are watching high-quality cartoons, engaging dramas – many with strong moral themes – and classics such as Sesame Street, Peter Rabbit and Thomas And Friends.
Psychiatrists warn about the dangers of television (and other screen exposure) on young minds, but kids' television is much better regulated, as it should be, than the adult version, which is drowning in mediocrity. In Australia the recommended daily TV dose for children 18 months and over is two hours – toddlers, like mine, are not supposed to have any screen time. Sadly, television is often depicted as a type of malicious electronic nanny. That is not the experience in our household, where Myles watches small but intensive segments of his favourite programs before heading back to his room to play with his toys, ride his trike or just run around.
Like thousands of other Australian parents we rely entirely on ABC Kids to keep our young chap entertained while we prepare breakfast, clean up or do other chores. While the national broadcaster is copping flak for its proposed cutbacks in both the radio and television schedules, its kids' network remains pre-eminent. Peppa Pig, Dinosaur Train, Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom, Mike The Knight, Thomas And Friends and The Clangers have been a vital part of my son's development. Like most children of his age, Myles is obsessed with The Wiggles, a show that has more bright colours and cheesy dance routines than the Eurovision Song Contest and has perfected his James Brown-style dance routine to the theme song of Hey Duggee.
Unlike the vacuous mental floss that adults endure each evening on the free-to-air networks, the shows on ABC Kids are mostly stimulating, well written, fast-paced and grounded in old-fashioned values. Programs such as The Octonauts and Dirtgirlworld deal with issues such as species loss, pollution, sustainable farming and the importance of recycling. Sesame Street teaches kids basic numeracy and the importance of tolerance in a diverse, multicultural society. Fireman Sam, set in the fictional Welsh seaside town of Pontypandy, provides basic lessons about safety and the need for self-sacrifice to preserve community life.
Some of the shows on ABC Kids are clearly designed to appeal to adults as much as their offspring. Few fathers will fail to identify with Daddy Pig, the well meaning but ineffectual head porker from Peppa Pig. Some of the episodes have an absurdist comic tone similar to the early films of Jacques Tati. In one episode the children have a furious argument during International Day. "What is going on?" asks Madame Gazelle, the class teacher. "America, Russia, Spain and Greece won't share the sandpit," explains one of her pupils. Madame Gazelle gives the class a ticking off: "Is this how you think the countries of the world behave?"
But adults will struggle to penetrate the alien world of the Clangers, a community of knitted beings that live on a blue planet, communicate in high-pitched whistles and whose only interest seems to be eating soup. The ubiquitous Teletubbies presents a similar challenge for anyone over four years old.
First launched as a stand-alone channel in 2001, ABC Kids has survived many challenges, including the withdrawal of government funding, management indifference, amalgamations and constant time slot changes. Play School, which recently turned 50, is a symbol of Aunty's commitment to responsible, well-executed kids' television. Shows such as Mike The Knight, Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom, Dinosaur Train and The Octonauts demonstrate children's television can, and does, match adult program making in every department.
ABC Kids, on behalf of the parents of Australia I salute you. Life without Peppa and her friends would be unthinkable.
Freelance journalist Mark Chipperfield writes a blog about parenting called Old Man With Pram.