Jayne Dowle: Lessons in life from first trip down the Street

MY daughter has come of age. She is only five, but she is now officially a fan of Coronation Street. It started when the soap celebrated its 50th birthday, and we just couldn't miss the tram-crash. Her brother, Jack, who is eight, liked the special effects, but soon got bored and wandered off. Lizzie though, was fascinated with all the drama. As my husband pointed out when he observed us together on the sofa: "This is where it all starts – a lifetime of addiction."

I wouldn't go so far as to call it an addiction. Work, cooking tea, football/dancing practice, and the phone ringing off the hook every evening has put paid to that. Over the years, I've fallen in and out of the habit. But I have been watching soaps a long time. I can't have been that much older than Lizzie when I started with Coronation Street. I remember my mother saying that she welcomed the sound of that familiar theme tune, because it meant I was sitting quietly in front of the television enjoying watching the new baby. The "new baby" was Tracy Barlow.

When Lizzie looks back, she will probably remember her first episodes for a new baby too – baby Jack, trapped in the rubble with his mother. As the fireman battled to free Molly, I asked Lizzie if she wanted to stop watching. I had already explained that it was "just a story", and I'm not such an irresponsible parent that I would have allowed her to be frightened.

Rather, I looked on it as a test of her ability to deal with unfamiliar situations. She was a bit sad when "the lady in the blue coat" didn't make it, because she liked her. But as far as I can tell, no lasting psychological damage has been done. In fact, she has become rather more protective towards her dolls, putting them nicely to bed instead of dropping them down the stairs on their heads to see how they bounce.

But I would draw a line, and I'd draw the line at letting her watch some of the storylines on EastEnders. She wouldn't see them with me anyway. I haven't done EastEnders for years, and don't intend to start again now.

Real life is dreary enough this cold, austere January. I have no wish to depress myself even further with witnessing cot death and now, we hear, teenage prostitution. I simply don't think that I would want her to see the anguish of a baby dead in its cot, or to witness the hysterical portrayal of a bereaved mother. And as for teenage prostitution, well, where do you start explaining that one to a small child?

Don't forget, this is coming from a mother who let her five-year-old watch the demise of Ashley Peacock, but just what are these script-writers thinking of? Do they really imagine that this is what we want to watch for distraction when the cares of our own day are done? And do they really think it is appropriate for it all to be on before the nine o'clock watershed, beamed into the nation's living rooms without so much as a flicker of disapproval?

I don't know whether it is a north/south thing, but there is something so cynical and mean-spirited about EastEnders, that I can find no pleasure from actually sitting through an episode. You just know that every fresh wave of trauma has been invented to grab the headlines and dominate the ratings, and somehow, I always feel that the audience is being manipulated.

But give or take the odd lesbian fumble under the covers, and some nasty encounters with claw hammers, there is still enough humour and warmth in Coronation Street italicsto redeem its more controversial moments.

Lizzie likes the back-stories, and wants to know more about the relationships between the families. For her, the biggest fascination is why everybody lives so close together and wanders in and out of each other's houses all the time. It is an interesting history lesson for her, learning that not so long ago that's how most of us (including her own mother) lived.

And she is full of questions. If a five-year-old can understand the point of context, then this is what she is getting. Her main concern is where the errant Kevin is going to live now his wife has found out he is baby Jack's father – "Why has Sally thrown him out?", "Why is everybody so cross with him?", etc, etc. And believing that honesty is the best policy, I've tried to answer them as truthfully as possible. She won't ever see that kind of situation in her own home – I hope – but in a way, I reckon it is gentle preparation for life.

Some people might think I am an irresponsible parent for letting my daughter watch any of the soaps in the first place. But I reserve the right to let her experience what she wants, and when I think she is ready, with me at her side. Watch with Mother? I'm glad she does.