parents

Dear parents... Mem Fox reckons you're doing it wrong (again).

Dear parents: Mem Fox thinks you’re doing it wrong.

Well, to be fair – not all parents. Those of you who had little ones prior to about 2007 are probably in the clear.

It’s the new generation of parents that are in trouble. The ones who have smartphones and tablets. The ones who let their children use those smartphones and tablets.

The ones who breathe a giant sigh of relief when those mesmorising sounds and colours start their campaign of awesome distraction… freeing Mummy or Daddy to head off to do something, you know, adult.

Really, it’s a downward spiral.

It starts with only letting kids use the iPad on long car trips. Or they get to use it for 15 minutes a day after they’ve done all their homework and helped load up the dishwasher.

But then it’s a rainy day and, well, the kids are just so happy playing Peek-a-Zoo so you let them play with apps much longer than usual.

And then you’re in line at the bank and the kids are kicking up a fuss and everyone is staring at you and judging away, so you hand over your iPhone and they finally stop carrying on like a bunch of hyenas on crack.

And then it’s 5pm on a Wednesday and all three children are screaming and/or crying and dinner is on the stove and it’s just so easy to say “HERE, TAKE THE iPAD” and hand it over so that they shut up for just five minutes.

“Oh Tiny Wings, what did I ever do without you?” we all wonder with religious-like fervor.

Before you know it, the kids are dashing home every afternoon and gluing themselves to the iThings. And you’re letting them because it’s easy and because it’s convenient and because life is busy enough without having to entertain your children every second of every day.

Welcome to 2013.

A world where everything is now infiltrated by technology. Where kids know how to swipe an iPhone open before they can even walk. Where littlies have eBooks instead of bookshelves, and apps instead of board games. Where companies make special phone cases for kids, so they don’t destroy gadgets worth hundreds of dollars.

Mem Fox, for one, does not approve.

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That’s right – Mem Fox, leading Australian children’s author? Mem Fox, of ‘Possum Magic’ and ‘Where is the Green Sheep?’ fame – thinks it’s “heartbreaking” to see small children left alone with smartphones and tablets to entertain themselves.

Hey baby – that iPad isn’t for eating.

Fox, who is currently gearing up for a national tour to promote her new book, Baby Bedtime, told Fairfax media that parents need to keep reading books with their kids in order to help them understand the story – otherwise it might impact negatively on their social skills.

”One of the things that bothers me most is that people seem to think that kids can be left alone with technology, [but] they would be less likely to leave the child alone with a pile of books at the age of two or three,” she said. ”It is the aloneness that is heartbreaking.”

Admitting that she does love technology, she added that too many parents have replacing parenting with technology, saying: ”Really, why do we have children if we can’t spend some time with them? It is just not right for the child. If we can’t spend time with our kids, we shouldn’t be having them.”

Look, Mem is no stranger to the controversial opinion. In 2008, she was slammed by many after she made a reference to childcare being like “child abuse” for babies. She has since clarified, saying that she was speaking up for all the babies in full-time care under the age of 12 months – but the damage was done. People got angry.

But this time, many seem to actually agree with her – including early childhood experts, who agree that children ought to have access to parents and traditional books, for reading-comprehension purposes. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics still suggests that any screentime at all is bad for kids under the age of two – that kids learn best by interacting, not by watching.

And there seem to be quite a few parents already pushing back against technology and limiting their kids’ screentime. Just a few months ago, we posted a blog from iVillage editor, Alana House, who believes that computers “steal childhoods”:

Alana’s keeping her kids away from computers.

I intend to keep my kids away from them for as long as possible. I want them to read. Actual books with pages, not Kindles.

I want them to play board games, not Playstation ones. (Their delight at being introduced to Scrabble this week was so divine.)

I want them to have a rich imaginary lives, unassisted by the virtual world.

Critics insist I’m disadvantaging them, that they will be “left behind”. But I don’t believe them.

I think I’m putting them ahead, in so many ways. I reckon those technical skills can be picked up pretty fast, when they’re really needed. In the meantime, my children’s creativity is being given a chance to thrive.

So. Over to you. What do you think about Mem Fox’s words? How much technology is too much for little kids? And are parents going too far in letting technology babysit their children, so they no longer have to read to them?

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