I have to hold my hands up here and confess to using technology as a convenient free child-minder when it suits. As a hectic single mother of two I’ve come to rely on iPads, TV shows and smartphones to keep the children sitting silently whilst I scramble around making dinner, happily in the car whilst driving to appointments and safely on the sofa as I do chores and errands. Research shows that a parents work life influences the amount of activity their children receive, as office workers come home and play with their children and manual workers come home and want to rest instead. I find myself a very healthy, active vegetarian parent with no real down time, and I encourage my children to be as active as possible whilst eating a nutritious and balanced diet, using television and technology to supplement their home learning. It’s thought that excessive television viewing increases the likelihood of children developing diabetes in later life and even smoking.
There’s simply not enough hours in the day or limbs on my body to be everywhere at once and do everything alone without a distraction for the children, knowing that they are happy and content at the table whilst I flitter around them because selfishly the magic housekeeping fairies seem to have eloped to Timbuktu. In the morning I use children’s television as an incentive for the children to eat their breakfast and get ready in time for school, and I frequently find myself using the line “If you finish all of your cereal and do up the top button on your shirt you may just get five minutes of CBBC before we leave!” Nine times out of ten it works a treat, and because of it we’re out the door walking the hours journey to school on time and early everyday. I lead a very active lifestyle and like the children to be the same, preferring walking to driving and ensuring the children get enough fresh air, fruit, vegetables, sunshine and exercise to keep them fit and healthy.
Likewise in the afternoon when we return home from school it’s that tricky transition between dumping down school bags, hanging coats, having dinner, bath time, getting into pyjamas, reading school books, doing homework and tucking the little ones in to bed for 7pm. When all is quiet and calm the tidying, dishes and washing can begin ready for the morning when the chaos begins again. On a bad day the television is possibly on for three to four hours across the morning to evening, mostly on the music channel simply for background noise, but also because the children love to sing and dance. In a way it’s taken over from the radio for music, as music videos are far more enjoyable to watch and the television lights up the room, giving that fix of watching something bright and interesting that a radio can no longer touch in todays society. Television is a way to zone out, to take your mind away from the hustle and bustle and stress of life, a mindless distraction by watching celebrities and actors leading exciting lifestyles wearing beautiful clothes in stunning locations. I like to catch the news each day rather than waste time watching soaps as there’s not enough hours in the day to run a family home alone, let alone sitting staring at the television all day. As a blogger and writer it’s a hard enough, and time consuming task to unshackle myself from my laptop and iphone for all of the social media notifications and emails I receive, but everybody has to have a cut off point. If only for sanity.
Technology has certainly come a long way in such a very short space of time, from the days when I was a child having to go up to the clunky box set and manually push a stiff clicky button in to switch between four channels that would fuzz and crackle through losing signal with a flimsy wire aerial. To nowadays when children have a choice of hundreds of channels on a flatscreen almost the size of a window at the push of a remote, all of which are available on demand at any time day or night. Television is becoming incredibly convenient, educational and dare I say it, far more interesting than everyday life for the average Joe and their children.
When I was a child I was happy skipping in the garden for hours on end, making obstacle courses and dens for my pet rabbits out of plant pots and buckets, and climbing apple trees getting scuffed knees. Every activity was an adventure and the days seemed to stretch on and on. Nowadays time slips away so fast, everything is a hurry, to a deadline and without the time to sit back and appreciate the moment anymore. Children today spend far more time indoors playing computer games, watching television and disappearing into a silent and isolated world of the blue screen that we endlessly stare into, and it’s sad to see the difference that just a single generation has made. And it frightens me to think of what the next generation will be like as a result of it. Technology connects us to the world, yet also takes us away from the moment and our relationships, turning a room full of family into silent strangers who no longer speak or interact in person. I cherish playing boardgames, doing puzzles and crafting with the children because it doesn’t involve technology, batteries or looping music, just immeasurable time and unconditional love.
Yet equally the information and material we are able to view and digest through television is far greater today than what I’d ever experienced as a child. When I was a nipper I’d have no idea what the bottom of the ocean looked like, I knew nothing of world news, different cultures and life beyond a five mile radius of my home. The documentaries, programs and apps that are available today bring the world to your home at the touch of a button or swipe of the screen, and it’s so incredibly realistic and eye-opening. The apps the children use cleverly take stories, songs and their favourite TV characters to teach them to count, spell, problem solve and even speak other languages, a 24/7 home tutor if you will, and a luxury that would have cost thousands in private tuition just a handful of years ago.
As a parent I feel it’s my responsibility to ensure my children should be up to date with technology in order to progress at school as they should; and to have knowledge of using computers, IT equipment and electronic devices in everyday life. I wouldn’t want them to feel isolated from other children their age for not knowing how to use a mouse or operate a printer, because it has become part of everyday life and it’s what’s expected. Equally I wouldn’t want to feel like I couldn’t provide for my children, and I would undoubtedly go without luxuries and make cutbacks to family spending in order to provide them with the latest gadgets and technology for their age range. Shockingly my children help me to understand my iPhone, they show me shortcuts to my music and photo albums and record little video clips and special messages for me to find and it melts my heart. Smartphones have become just a part of normal life as a reassuring cup of tea or holding a child’s hand, it’s an extension of our limbs and has the power to run, and take over our lives. From finances to Facebook, online shopping, socialising and skyping, the world rests at your fingertips whenever and however you require.
Sadly parenting doesn’t come with a manual, and there’s no way to know if the decisions you make are right or wrong, you just have to weigh up the pro’s and con’s and do what you believe to be the best for your children. I recognise the importance of preserving childhood, exploration, adventure and creativity in a healthy and active way, yet I also understand how worthwhile knowledge and information is to a young mind. I believe just like anything in life, technology and television should be used in moderation. Too much of it will undoubetedly turn us into a race of silent zombies, unable to communicate and interact with our peers face to face, evidently escaping reality in favour of a stress free and perfect virtual life and online persona. Technology can be incredibly convenient, time saving and educational when used alongside a healthy and active lifestyle. However it should be used as a supplement to our existence and never a substitute. The world is a beautiful and fascinating place and we should appreciate our life, children and loved ones each and every day. Explore the great outdoors together, smell the fresh air and feel the sunshine on your face; cherishing the memories you make forever complimented by the videos, photos and footage that we collect on our devices.