I’ve seen a number of posts, articles, tweets, etc. recently that have criticised parents and their use of technology, specifically smartphones and tablets. Parents being shamed for “ignoring” their children whilst tapping away on a phone or for pulling out a tablet to distract a child that is having a meltdown over lunch. Is this criticism justified?
Firstly I am of the view that people should mind their own business and have no place to judge anyone, especially when they are not seeing the full picture of a strangers day. So the question becomes, should I give myself a hard time about this issue? For me the answer is, sometimes.
The Technology we have available to us right now is incredible and allows us to do amazing things. It’s advancing at an incredible rate and there is no way of getting away from the fact that it will be a huge part of our kids lives. My son may have a car that drives itself, a house that interacts with him remotely, heck he might be able to teleport himself for a holiday on the moon for all I know. His experience of technology in his life will be vastly different to mine which in some ways I find very exciting and in some ways a little sad. I’d like to think that by the time he reaches his teens we may have levelled out and have a better balance between being online and offline in our lives but that may be wishful thinking.
As a family we embrace the technology we have available to us, it allows us to keep in touch with his grandma via video call and we have a wonderful record of his life via
hundreds thousands of photos and videos that we can instantly share with our family that live many miles away. Technology has given us 24 hour access to people who can give us instant advice when he has been poorly. It has saved my sanity in difficult moments by allowing me to reach out and connect with people who have given me reassurance and comfort and through those connections I’ve built some of the most important relationships I have in my life. For all of this there does seem to be a bit of a trade-off.
Narrowing it down from technology as a whole to the internet and social media is where I find my inner struggle. I find it very difficult to be “offline” for any real amount of time without making a very conscious effort. I don’t know if it’s a fear of missing something, of not being a part of something or just that it’s such a huge part of my life now that it feels almost unnatural to be without it. I shop online, I work online, I educate myself online, I socialise online, it touches every aspect of my life. I also waste a lot of time online, procrastinating and distracting myself from things I’d rather not be doing or involve me getting my arse off the sofa. It’s sad but true that having a world of information and entertainment in the palm of my hand has made me even more lazy than I already was! Would I procrastinate and be lazy without internet access? yes, probably not as much though.
So what does that mean for me as a parent? The reality is that, yes, I do sometimes pull my phone out at the park, sometimes it’s to check if that jacket I like is back in stock or to watch a video of a cat riding a bike or some other nonsense. But, sometimes it’s to catch up on house admin or work or to provide support to a friend. Yes, I will crack out an episode of Peppa Pig when my son is turning purple and may actually spontaneously combust because I dared to put him into a high chair in public. No, that doesn’t mean that I don’t stand firm when I need to, it means that I pick my battles. I don’t have my eyes permanently fixed on my son every waking moment of his life, does that mean I’m a crap parent? I don’t think so. Could I spend a little less time watching cat videos and checking Instagram, yes, I’m not perfect so shoot me.
The thing that really gets me is would I receive the same judgemental looks if I were to pull out a copy of Great Expectations rather than a phone whilst he played? Spending time with my son is very precious but that doesn’t stop the rest of the world from existing. Sometimes it’s just not possible to put everything else on hold until they have gone to bed but without question he absolutely always comes first. Maybe there is an aspect of this whole thing that has totally passed me by and that I’m just not getting but as I see it life is all about balance. As with many things in this parenting business you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I would be as bashed for being a helicopter parent as I would for encouraging him to be an independent, free spirit depending on who has assigned themselves judge and jury of my parenting skills, or lack of, on a particular day. God forbid I should be striving to strike a balance between the two and not have a single label! It’s unrealistic and that’s the crux of this for me, ideals versus reality, as is the case with so many of these parenting debates.
I do think it’s hard to strike a balance particularly with the use of social media but I certainly do not feel it’s something we should be berating each other for. I spend enough time putting parent guilt on myself for one thing or another without adding to someone else’s as well!