Welcome to the Herald's parenting podcast: One Day You'll Thank Me. Join parents and hosts Jenni Mortimer and Rebecca Blithe as they navigate the challenges and triumphs of parenting today with help from experts and well-known mums and dads from across Aotearoa.
Suzy Cato recalls the story of a teenage boy whose mother came home one day to find him cuddled up on the couch with a hot chocolate and a biscuit watching her show.
When she asked what he was doing he told her, "Mum, it's just been one of those days. I just needed to sit and have a cuppa with Aunty Suzy."
As anyone who grew up adoring Cato can attest, TV shows that dominated our formative years can be hugely nostalgic. But how much is too much television for kids? On today's episode of the Herald's parenting podcast, One Day You'll Thank Me, the national treasure imparted some wisdom on navigating screen time.
"The fact that You And Me was on morning and afternoon, there was that real sense of, Suzy's a part of my family. She's always in my lounge with me having breakfast or afternoon tea. Kids love repetition and they love knowing something - it gives them great comfort, it gives them great confidence that they can answer my questions, that they can sing along with me. They can be a Skittle, or a penguin. I'm not challenging them, which is what the world does. The moment you step out the door, there are noises, there are sounds, there are people that are going to want you to do something and ask things of you."
Cato, 54, began making kids' television shows 30 years ago. Since then she's witnessed immense change in the type of content produced for little ones and the ways in which they view it.
"When I was growing up there was one screen ... there were three by the time I was on tele. Now there are as many screens as you've got devices and the options are endless."
She agrees television has always been "a bit of a babysitting tool" but in a world where "there is such endless opportunity" for content, that's happening "more than ever".
In fact, Cato says screens have become so depended on that, in some countries, authorities are intervening.
"You see it sometimes, kids in a pushchair ... out on a most beautiful, glorious day and there's birds, there's cars, trucks, diggers, you could name a number of things they could be looking at and talking about, but they've got their nose buried in a screen. Overseas, parents have been fined if they're seen giving their child a device like that instead of communicating and interacting with them," she says of legislation in China, Taiwan and South Korea.
While Cato believes we don't need to go "quite that far", she does feel that screens are playing too much of a part in our kids' lives.
As podcast co-host Jennifer Mortimer notes, her son, Knox, 3, has had his entire life affected by Covid and, like many Kiwi kids of this era, has spent a lot of time in front of the TV as a result. While Mortimer says she's cautious of what Knox is watching, she asks Cato if there are things parents should be looking out for when it comes to determining what our children see.
"In some ways, I don't want to say, 'don't watch' to anything because they are all opportunities to learn and to have a discussion," says Cato.
The key is helping your kids choose content wisely and finding the time to watch along with them, ask questions and engage.
"The experience is far greater," she says.
But if you can't, Cato says the advice she gave to her own children when they first got an iPad and started making content choices independently was "you can't unsee or un-hear anything".
"Is that something that you really want to see? Is it something that's going to make you feel good? If not, move away from it. Come and talk to Dad and I about what you've just seen."
Cato says even from a young age it's valuable to ask what made your child scared or uncomfortable.
"Putting it into the terms of the child, for them to actually understand what it was, they start taking control of that situation. These strategies we're giving them as toddlers are going to be invaluable all through their lives."
And if you are the parent of a child who seems hellbent on watching Baby Shark videos on repeat, Cato says there is a way to move them on from that particular cycle of hell.
"Those things aren't bad for kids but you need to have variety - entertainment, drama, comedy, local kids' comedy - and extend things for them. I guess it's the same with anything. How do you move a child away from a tray of hundreds and thousands biscuits? You've got to make the other viewing interesting. It's your involvement and how you react to things that will draw them in as well."
• For more tips on navigating television and screentime with kids and to find out what Cato recommends for Kiwi kids to watch, listen to today's episode of One Day You'll Thank Me below.