Technology is a double-edged sword as a parent.
It gives us wonderful toys and entertainment for our children that we never had. It lights up our little ones faces as they marvel at the moving parts or the sprites appearing on a portable screen.
It is also terribly addictive in certain forms – and can develop into a parenting crutch you will find difficult to ditch.
My children – the oldest approaching their third birthday and the youngest just one year and three months – have been blessed with a smorgasbord of toys and contraptions that are squarely aimed at keeping their short attention spans busy and to also educate. The majority of objects that regularly litter every inch of floor in our house revolve around numbers, letters, shapes and colours. They are certainly doing the trick too – as my oldest is frightfully sharp and has taken all of the learning material these toys can offer.
Then there is the tablets.
Michael McIntyre, the famous stand-up comedian, spoke in one of his sell-out tours about how his kids start acting up and he frisbees an iPad at them before they erupt into tears. These marvels of innovation have the ability to soothe any boo-boo your kid has. You can set parental controls so the darker side of the internet is safely tucked away and out of sight – so your kid can surf away for hours, looking at all sorts of videos on YouTube.
And that is where the danger lies.
My wife and I go to great lengths to ensure that ‘video time’ is restricted. If we let them have their own way, they’d have it on all day. No exaggeration. We let them watch it after lunch for 30 minutes, so they sit in one space (the only time they ever sit still) and we can clear up the detritus of two toddlers eating a meal. Then, after dinner, they get another thirty minutes so we can again clear up the aftermath and also prepare for bedtime.
It helps us and in moderation, it helps them. My oldest has learned so much from watching these videos and it is a real kick to see their little fingers dance across the touchscreen as they search for another video. The current favourite is a series of videos about animated monster trucks that teach the kids about numbers. They crash through blocks and have numbers on the side – it seems simple – and is narrated by the most annoying voice – but they can’t get enough.
They get attached quickly. Nope, attached doesn’t quite cover it.
They get ensconced.
When it’s time to turn it off, sometimes we get tears. Trying to communicate with them when the videos are on is a lost cause. When the little screen of hypnosis is off and you speak, they respond in wonderful ways. When it is on, you could invite a brass band into the kitchen and they wouldn’t bat an eyelid.
Sometimes, you’re crying out for just half an hour of peace, just to get your mojo back. You will feel like a wrung out dishcloth which has just taken on 28 sauce-encrusted pots and pans and the videos seem like manna from heaven.
In moderation is fine – but you can’t rely on it.
It will teach your kids all manner of things – but it can also end up taking away a precious slot of time you could have with them. Sometimes you need to remind yourself that they won’t be this age forever, so you get down on the floor and begin playing pirates/cars/dollhouses. You will be tired, but it’s worth it.