If you are a parent, and you keep up with the news, or are on social media, then you must have heard Today Show host Lisa Wilkinson’s comments about how parents who allow their children time on an iPhone/iPad are “crazy”.
And you must have seen/read the resulting hoo-ha from parents all weighing in on her “extremely judgemental” remarks.
I’m going to be straight- I totally agree with her.
Trust me, I understand how parents can be driven to simply pass on such devices to their children, but I have come to the firm belief that simply ‘surviving’ parenthood, and therefore doing whatever it takes to ‘survive’ it, is just not a good enough standard to hold ourselves to as parents.
I wrote before, when discussing my eldest daughter’s eating habits, that:
“A lesson that I have faced over and over again in the past four years of my parenting career is perseverance. If there were ever a test of your character, of your selflessness, it is trying to raise a child. Because over and over again you have to make the choice between what is best for them, or what is easier for you now…“
And this last part applies to many, many other decisions we make for our children, from their birth onwards, beyond what we feed them.
There is an absolute wealth of information on how screen time is affecting children’s brain, spinal and mental well-being. Take this one from Psychology today that claims that children who are diagnosed with everything from weak memories, to depression and ADHD can be helped by going on an “electronics fast”. It then goes onto highlight “six physiological mechanisms that explain electronics’ tendency to produce mood disturbance.” So when somebody is simply delivering the truth that any parent who allows their child to be exposed to such harm, I cannot fathom how parents can still shoot back with, “I’m just doing what I can to SURVIVE. So I can get things done. So I can get some peace.” Or that she is just being incredibly judgemental.
Let’s get a few things straight.
As I said above, and I have made this mistake myself (of excusing my parenting decisions with the ‘survival’ reason) so I’m not sitting here on my high horse being Judgy-McJudgeson, simply aiming to “survive” as a parent is just not good enough. Do we suddenly justify giving our children McDonald’s and lots of pre-packaged food thus absolutely destroying their gut health, impacting their behaviour and so on and so forth, because we need to “survive”?
Do we justify hours of time for our kids on iPads and iPhones so that we can “get things done”? Or just to get some “peace”?
Even when we are out shopping, or at the doctor’s waiting room, do we need to shove a device into their hands to “keep them quiet”? Our generation used to complain about how our parents believed that children should be “seen and not heard” and they would simply yell at us to keep us quiet, and how we are emotionally scarred from this experience.
What has changed? Aren’t we simply using the same line with our own kids, but worse, we are handing them a tool that will destroy their physical, mental, social and behavioural health? At least back in the day we were just yelled at but then we kept our eyes and heads up and were forced to observe the world around us, to be given the chance to absorb and reflect on what was happening around us, which gave us a chance to learn human behaviour and social skills.
Maybe it even resulted in us, heaven forbid, getting bored at the GP’s waiting room, which would lead to us playing with the secondhand toys on the table (and no, our parents didn’t carry around packets of wipes and hastily wipe our hands after playing with such toys), and inevitably interacting with the other children in the same predicament as us. Or we just sat there. Doing nothing. Learning how to keep quiet because we feared our parents.
Which apparently these days, is the worst thing that we can do to our children.
Also, I’m calling something else out, God help me for saying this as I probably will be crucified for it, but, the reality is that there is A LOT of lazy parenting happening out there.
I don’t agree that all parents are just doing the best that they can.
Let me give you some examples.
Recently, I witnessed a well-educated mother allowing her TWO YEAR OLD daughter to guzzle down Coke.
At the shopping centre, I have seen children sitting in prams holding iPads/iPhones on their laps while their mothers “get things done”.
When I was toilet training J (my eldest) I was looking for a potty for her, and I saw a Fisher & Price potty with an iPad stand attached to it. #WhatTheHell
Everywhere I go, I see parents looking down at their phones, and sitting next to them, their barely five year olds looking at their own iPads. Don’t even get me started on 10 year olds or teenagers.
We HAVE to be better than this. We HAVE to do better than this. For our children’s sake, and for our own sake.
We have to stop making excuses for our bad parenting ‘decisions’. Because the reality is that we, as parents, as a community, are getting things horribly wrong with our children. And I’m not talking about the inevitable mistakes that we will make because we are not perfect people and therefore cannot be perfect parents. Even the best of us will get it wrong.
What I’m talking about is the blind justification of decisions made for our children that are clearly and undeniably wrong.
Like allowing them hours on a screen.
And if you want proof, don’t just read the plethora of research out there talking about this, just observe our children. Look at their lack of social skills, look at their hyperactivity, look at their utter disinterest in the world around them, in their lack of manners, in their sense of entitlement, in their lack of empathy, in their lack of direction, in their lack of will to work hard.
We are bombarding our children with so much that is not natural that they are turning into automatons. Look at the number of violent children who abuse their parents. Yes. This is happening.
Or look at the rates of childhood obesity just in Australia. One in four children in Australia were reported as overweight in the period between 2007-2008.
ONE in FOUR.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, adults are just as addicted to technology as our children are. As adults we don’t know how to responsibly use these devices that have overrun our lives in such a short period. How can we just hand them over to our children?
Look, I could write so much more on this topic. But the ultimate point I am making is that we, as parents, really need to stop excusing our bad parenting decisions. We need to stop being so defensive and jumping down people’s throats about being “judgemental” because guess what? We actually need to learn how to positively and intelligently “judge” what is right, and what is wrong. We need to teach our children how to discern between what is positive, and what is negative, what is beneficial and what is harmful.
And if we, as their parents, as their most important and foremost guide in their lives, lay out everything as “O.K” for them, allow them to eat whatever they want, allow them to play with whatever they want, allow them to watch movies and shows without questioning, how do they become adults who have the capacity to think critically and make the right decisions for themselves if they grow up in a world that is “judgement-free”?
It is our responsibility and duty as their parents to make judgements about what is right and what is wrong for our children.
Let’s have the courage to build each other up as a community to support the right parenting decisions. Let’s be honest with ourselves about how we are parenting our children, about how consciously we are making decisions for them. Let’s be courageous enough, and humble enough to take on board constructive criticism. In teaching, there is a type of teacher called the ‘reflective teacher’. This is the one who, after each lesson, spends time reflecting on what they, as a teacher, did right, did wrong, could have done better, could have done a different way.
This type of teacher is generally the more effective teacher.
We should be doing this as parents. I know that we are tired. I am tired. I know that daily grind and endless cycle of cleaning and cooking and dealing with fights and trying to go to work and get kids dressed and riding their tantrums can break us. But we need to remember that our children are an amanah (a trust) given to us by our Creator. And while we may not be questioned on our children’s decisions, we will most certainly be questioned on what we did for our children, on our intentions in raising our children. On how much we tried to raise good servants of Allah (swt).
So let’s ask ourselves, and let’s be honest, are we doing the best we can as parents?
*Disclaimer: No, my kids do not have any screen time on a device. They are banned from using iPhones and iPads. I had downloaded some ‘educational’ apps for J years ago, but found that she became addicted to them much too quickly and she literally turned into a different, wild, angry child, when I tried to take the device from her. So I simply deleted the apps and since then have simply reinforced that a mobile phone is not a toy.
And here are some articles that look at the damaging effects of screen time on children:
The Impact of screen time on children from the Australian Spinal Research Foundation.
Featured image source.