I have a friend with six children. They are intelligent, well mannered, accomplished, engaging and beautiful to boot. I am filled with admiration. Successfully managing four children is a challenge. I cannot imagine how she is able to deal with six and stay sane.
But it gets even more impressive. She has banned screens in her house. Her children have no TV, computer games or mobile telephones. They watch age appropriate DVDs at the weekend. I assume the children have access to these things at other people's houses but generally her house runs without them.
I think it is generally accepted that the modern child spends too long in front of a screen each day. As a result they seem to have stopped enjoying physical and imaginative play. When I was a child there were two channels showing children's programmes and then only between 3 and 6 each afternoon. I remember when Noel Edmunds burst forth with a programme that lasted for the whole of Saturday morning. Radical. Obviously I wasn't allowed to watch it. Saturdays were for doing things.
Now it is much more difficult for parents to control. My children have access to a wide array of programming 24 hours a day. They also have countless websites offering them diversions, the wii and various hand held devices. About two years ago, conscious that the screens were beginning to shape their lives, I initiated "No screen Tuesday" which they accept, albeit grudgingly. On Tuesdays they have to think of something else to do and they always do.
So when I heard that my friend had banned all screens I stopped to think. At first, I felt guilty. Am I failing as a mother? Am I guilty of using screens to entertain my children when I should be doing it myself? Maybe, a little. The big two always had to ask permission before turning on a screen. The little ones seem to have bypassed this rule and clearly it needs reinforcing so that I am aware of what they are doing and how much screen time they have.
And there are things that I really dislike. It drives me mad that text alarms go off all day long. I don't really approve of them being on facebook (not withstanding my own addiction to social networking.)I would rather that they used a dictionary to look words up rather than a spell checker. But these are the tools of the 21st century. We don't like them because they are new but this is the way it is going to be for our children. They will grow up in a world where computers rule the roost. Most of them will end up doing jobs that haven't even been thought of yet.
And so, unsurprisingly, I have decided that the answer has to lie in a compromise somewhere between my friend's position and what the children would choose for themselves. My role as a mother is to ensure that my children's screen time is closely monitored and controlled. I need to teach them that the world is far bigger and more exciting than the confines of a computer and that the virtual world is no substitute for the real one. But mobile telephones, computers and computer games are part of the modern age and to deny that has to be comparable with the Luddites of yesteryear. Appropriately used they can enhance our life, not threaten it.
It is good for us to question as we parent, to look see how others approach the issues that arise every day and make changes where it seems necessary or appropriate. And in the end we all have to follow the path that feels right to us. And hope that we made the right decision.