Nothing can make you sound like a fuddy-duddy faster than complaining about the "interwebs" and how the kids today spend all their time in front of either a computer screen or a television screen. "They spend all day on My Face talking to God-only-knows-who" is the sort of sentence I expect my Grandmother come out with, only it's not her despairing, it's me.
In fact, grandma isn't despairing at all. She knows the solution - don't let the children within 50 kilometres of a functioning computer and no TV on school nights. She tells me often. And if the kids do find their way onto a computer or TV, gran knows exactly who is to blame - the mums and dads who are riding the Soft Parenting express train to hell. "Who knows what you're exposing your kids to with those computers" is grandma's lingering, accusatory remark. And as much as I'd love to dismiss grandma's remark the fact is she is dead right, I have no idea what computers are doing to my kids.
The thing is, my interaction with computers has been limited to using them as communication devices - to gain information or to give information. Never in my entire life have I thought of a computer as an entertainment device, something that I can use as a tool for socialising or as a distraction to fill in time. But it is here that the gap is widening between me and my eight-year-old daughter Maisie.
For Maisie, no day is complete without checking in with her mates in some cyber reality. Some time in the school day, Maisie and her classmates decided that, when they get home from spending all day with each other, they will meet at some cyber-café for some cyber hijinks. There is also a dedicated site for Maisie's class to post information and send messages to each other. As a parent, it is very difficult to separate internet activity that is playing and internet activity that is learning. And I imagine this line is even blurrier for Maisie.
Even if I do manage to pry Maisie off the computer it is only a matter of time before she finds another digital form of distraction - mum's unguarded iPhone, dad's dormant Blackberry, the laptop in the lounge room, the portable DVD player . . . she doesn't have to travel too far to get her fix. And it's infecting the less net-savvy kids in our household. Five-year-old Frances now wants a penguin shaped avatar of her own and talks incessantly about getting a Nintendo DS (although, on further enquiry I have discovered she has no idea what one is, so I can see the silent hand of Maisie at play there). And nearly two-year-old Rita is understandably besotted with a photo of herself that is the screensaver on my Blackberry, to the point that she screams "BABY" every time I take the phone out of my pocket. Add to this an ever expanding number of TV stations servicing younger viewers and the lure of the screen becomes intense.
And, sadly, its not just the kids who are constantly distracted by screens big and small - between checking emails on the Blackberry, my status on Facebook or my latest purchase on Ebay (not to mention the engrossing world of EB forums), I'm lucky if I'm able to make eye contact with anyone over the course of the day. And just as Maisie finds it hard to work out the line between playing and learning, the division between "home time" and "work time" is almost completely frazzled these days. But is all of this a bad thing? I have no idea - it is simply how my family functions. But will we learn in 5, 10, 20 year's time that confusing the boundaries between play and learning, work and home, "off" and "on" time is undermining the family unit? And is there a way to get some balance and structure back into the modern family?
Do you make time for family time? Have you figured out a way to get some balance into your family so that "family time" means actually interacting with each other? Are modern "conveniences" a blessing or a curse?
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