Saturday, 12 April 2014

Kids, Mobile Devices and Parent Guilt?

I had a good friend who worked for Edinburgh city council in what I considered at the time a bit a whimsical social workerism. His department was 'play development' which was education and opportunities for developing kids playing. The weight actually on teaching adults how to create a simple environment, encourage kids, vary the content and bring in learning for cognitive and motor functions. This was through structured and unstructured play.

It isnt really laughable at all once you are a parent of this generation, 40 something with 1.9 kids, and sit feeling guilty about the amount of time you allow your kids to use iPads, android nettpads, mobiles and nettflix while you do whatever house work or,  facebook and

Should we feel so guilty about allowing our kids on average maybe two hours on mobile devices per day? Why don't we spend time playing with our kids?

Partly this is a generation inheritance thing, and that is what play-development in Edinb'ra' was trying to break and rebuild. Our parents were kids in the 40s and 50s , mine actually earlier again! They had a very traditional set of life patterns and had not been played with so very much by their hard working fathers and even their home oriented housewife mothers. Kids were left to their own devices and play happened a lot at school or in the summer holidays when kids then had actually free range to wander with fewer cars and no worries about pædofiles on every street corner.

More affluent families had nannies, sometimes playful sometimes tyrants in the post war years. Working class mothers in the 1950s had hard house work to do in the uk, while fathers often worked long hours and my father talked even of working christmas morning and just popping in to see me after mum gave birth.

Back then kids had books for wet winter evenings, listen with mother, scouts and the playpark. Kids have all that now. The point is that kids back then were by in large left to their own devices and given encouragement to read and be active rather than the parents engaging in play very often.

My generation in turn, were then treated the same but by that time first the expansion in childrens tv and then the arrival of the home computer meant that we were the first generation super glued to the flat screen.

However as a child I had a lot of other activity with the cub scouts and with my pals or just the local gathering of kids in the woods or the playparks. I did lack a real sense of structured play, which in fact I beleive to be detrimental to me as a person in terms of being used to going with the flow more than being a team player at work or in sport now.

What i do remember was on the one side being embarressed to have my parents even see most of my playing behaviour. You are in a magical little play act for yourself or with pals, and the fun of fooling and adopting personna and making strange noise, and conducting fantasies along a loose course.

On the other hand i then put a bigger value on times when my parents did play with me or took me out on the boat or for a picnic.

So If my parents had played with me all the time i may have been just as negatively affected by their intrusion, becoming one of those irritating precocious only-child offspring who have little irritating questions or pompous comments on play and dont quite get the point of the free feeling of letting go and being a bit wild and naughty.

For me it is a conscious effort to engage in play and also to get my kids involved in sports. However as a house husband for now, it is getting easier and more natural to throw in half an hour board games or help out at junior gymn' or whatever. Also the wee man gets a very long bedtime story session while his big sister reads with joy on her own accord, after many years of having being read for herself.

So i dont see net-pads as all that negative. In fact there are many positive things , and they are growing up with the technology. In one word to use on this topic, mobile devices with touch screens are interactive.

The amount of time used on them is the issue. Can a parent (their mum) with a candy crush addiction cured only to be replaced by family-farm really comment on mindless game play? Can I complain about social networks for kids, beyond the whole pædo and hacking thing, when i can easily be on facebook oer bloggging for an hour at prime time for joint family activities?

In actual fact i think the real danger area for time misspent on nett-pads is actually not about the parent-child interaction, but a sickness for common play when kids visit each other at home. I cannot remember the last time when i went to collect the 'wee man' and he was not involved with an iPad game , with only one pad between the two. Perhaps worse, an iPad mad family where the two kids then sit and play unconnected games for maybe an hour of a two hour visit.

Teenagers now are into the instant mini high of social gratification on FB and the newer platforms. SMS is dieing ! But with laptops in the class room and mobiles int the playground time is just sucked away into largely unconstructive interaction , "twittering" being an apt name.

There are some arguements for the positive sides of social media for teenagers. Friendships can be sustained when classes are split, people go to college or move away. People learn some social ettiquette and get perhaps more feedback on positive and negative attitudes and opinions. People also know who they have more in common with, and can be more socially included in activities and parties rather than talk of social exclusion, which is a fact of life in what ever social contact for teenagers who have the typical challenges of being a bit different. Indeed gay teenagers, goths, those with acne, those who are a bit childish still etc can reach out to each other and find people in the same situation further a field, helping them know they share problems or just ways-of-being which local school society shuns.

The journalist based trad' media itself is reponsible for the bad press the nett pad and social media youth generation get. Ironic because in order to compete for share of voice they have to publish bluntly negative headlines to catch attention and utilise studies which are loaded to find negativity from outset.

By in large though parents have to set limits on time spent on netpads, and schools have to have rules and also counselling about social media. We have to encourage awareness of a balanced lifestyle and how to use these new platforms responsibly and to positive ends as well as permitting just plane old, time wasting recreation.