Electronic babysitters ... not so smart parenting

Aasma Day
Aasma Day
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Being a parent is hard enough without smug bystanders casting judgemental looks or rolling their eyes.

Everyone has their own method of parenting and I’ve always been careful to avoid being sanctimonious as it’s a free country and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.

To breastfeed or bottle-feed? Dummy or no dummy? Potty training or straight to the toilet? All these parental dilemmas and more are enough to drive you potty without the addition of pious people telling you your decision is wrong.

However, there is a rapidly increasing and toxic parenting tactic I feel compelled to speak out against as it’s a dangerous and lazy approach to dealing with meltdowns or simply just keeping a child “quiet” and seen but not heard.

I’m talking of course about the modern day method of “electronic babysitters” when children are simply handed an iPad or mobile phone to play on as a way of placating them or keeping them occupied.

Don’t get me wrong, technology is a great thing and I think it’s wonderful our children have so much more at their fingertips than in my day.

When I was a child, playing a computer game meant feeding a cassette tape into a player and watching psychedelic colours slowly load up accompanied by a continuous screeching noise all for a basic game with limited graphics.

Children of today are so technologically savvy, the use of tablets and smartphones has quite simply become child’s play. Many can skilfully text, swipe and type before they can even walk or talk.

While this progress has obvious benefits, there are also major drawbacks – especially when technology is seen as an easy way out by parents.

I witnessed a little lad in a toy shop begging for a hideously expensive plasticky toy. When his mum said no, he threw a major tantrum screaming and stamping his feet in rage.

His flustered mum promptly reached into her bag and pulled out an iPad.

Magically, peace was restored. But at what cost?

If electronic gadgets are used to soothe children when it comes to difficult behaviour, how will they ever learn to control their emotions?

It’s not just in shops I’ve seen technology used to keep children quiet, but restaurants too.

Meals out should be a time of family togetherness and enjoying conversation. I find it incredibly sad seeing children with their eyes glued to a tiny screen instead of having human interaction.

Even on holidays abroad, I’ve seen children sat for hours mindlessly blasting things on their hand held console instead of building sandcastles or playing in the sea.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for technology and electronic games or that I’m some perfect earth mother – far from it.

Sometimes I’ll let my children watch TV while I get on with something else; on long car journeys they’ll play on hand held games devices and they have Kindles which they use sparingly as tablets.

The difference is, I believe technology should enhance childhood, not replace it.

I enjoy spending time with my children - and in the same way as Hubby and I don’t seek to palm them off on others every weekend, we don’t want then playing on tablets or consoles for hours on end while we get on with our own pursuits.

Even Prime Minister David Cameron has revealed he bans his children from using electronic devices on Saturday mornings.

Thankfully, we don’t have to impose such a ban in our household as our children have many interests and hobbies and quite frankly, they’d sooner be playing outside.

Frighteningly, children of today spend around six hours a day staring at screens - often on two screens at once such as playing on an iPad while watching TV.

Tech mad families apparently spend less than 60 minutes a day talking face-to-face.

The danger is if we allow our children to become slaves to screens and succumb to electronic babysitters, we’re going to breed a generation of socially stunted people lacking in basic communication skills.

A lazy option that can never replace real play - not so smart parenting.