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Who's in control of the remote?

By Gary Crossing

It’s a struggle as old as time itself. Well, it’s been raging for decades at least, turning living rooms across the nation into battle zones. Just who is in charge of the remote control for the telly?

My eldest son believes he is the remote master. He carries it around with him, in his tight little felt-tip covered grip, like some televisual talisman from a bygone age.

It goes with him whenever he leaves the room. If he needs the loo, he pauses the programme and takes it with him. Rest assured he leaves it outside on the landing while he's in there.

Sometimes he hides the sacred, button-encrusted wand of dreams behind one of the cushions on the sofa. He thinks I don’t know but I do. Oh yes.

Occasionally, he'll forget where he's left it. We once found it hidden in a shoe.

It is infuriating. A while ago, in a bid to make him realise how obsessive he was becoming, I strapped the remote to his arm with elastic bands. It was meant to be a joke. But he thought it was a brilliant idea.

In the mornings, he and his younger brother race to get dressed so that they can be first downstairs and get their hands on the remote.

Occasionally, they wrestle each other for the control, rolling around on the rug, locked in mortal combat, their shouts turning to screams as the AA batteries tumble out from the secret compartment of power and roll slowly, agonisingly under the sofa.

But why are they so obsessed with getting their fingers on the buttons of that remote? It’s so old-fashioned isn't it? Like some primitive tool from an ancient civilisation you might have dug up in the garden. It can't compete with the touch controlled iPads and Nintendo 3DSs they play with during most of their free time.

Ironically, it’s only when their devices are charging, or during mealtimes, or when homework is over and bedtime approaches, that they turn to television and the rows over the remote start.

We should never have taught them how to use it. At first it felt like a time-saving measure. Rather than being called in to the lounge from the kitchen every five minutes (those fish fingers won't cook themselves you know) to change channels from CBeebies to CBBC. There's no pausing and rewinding on that moment.

I blame Netflix. And BBC iPlayer. Curse them and their infinite choice of on-demand child-friendly content! When I was young we only had three channels. And they didn't broadcast 24 hours a day. And kids' progammes were only on at lunch and dinner times. And we had to change channels with our hands.

I digress.

The dusty towers of DVDS, stacked precariously around the telly, are seldom played these days, destined for a school jumble sale some time soon.

The lure of on-demand telly is irresistible and setting parental controls on Netflix and BBC iPlayer is simple enough. Then they are free to binge watch A Series of Unfortunate Events, Annoying Orange, The Dog Ate My Homework, Phineas & Ferb and Scream Street.

It's my fault too, for introducing them to The Simpsons and to the 'record entire series' button. We now have over 200 episodes of the show, which they watch on constant rotation.

The boys take it in turns to choose a programme. But even that is fraught with problems because they rarely like the same thing. And because, even though it's not their time to choose, the person holding the remote is reluctant to hand over 'the precious'. Instead they insist on selecting the programme their brother wants for them. 

We've tried to ease the tension and reduce the boys' screen time by playing games before bedtime. We sit around the table and play Jenga, dominoes, Frustration and Guess Who. And it works. We get our boys back. And they are a lot calmer when they head up the wooden hill. More time away from the gogglebox, as lovely as it is, might be the key.

Of course, it's only when the boys are safely tucked up in bed and the house falls quiet, that the true remote master reveals himself. Sitting in the armchair, eating a jacket potato on his lap, flicking through on-demand episodes of Peaky Blinders and Narcos. YES, TIS I!

Maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh