Thursday, 20 November 2014
A Dad's View 16: Are things out of control?
Technology is a positive force in our development, Tom Dunmore believes, but sometimes youhave to admit things are out of control
So it's Sunday morning and I'm ruining things again: taking a picture of our sunkissed kids, cropping, adding a filter, tagging and uploading... only to find the moment has passed and I'm just another dad staring at his smartphone.
Ava has picked up the iPad in retaliation. Four years old and she's already claimed ownership of the most sophisticated bit of technology in the house. 'What are you up to?' I ask. 'I'm loading down a game,' she says, like it was the most natural thing in the world.
I watch, aghast, as she swipes through screens, fires up the App Store and navigates to games before finally clicking the 'buy' button next to something suitably pink and unicorny.
I wait for the iPad to ask for a password.
But it doesn't, because I've just downloaded a paper and Ava has sneaked in during the 15-minute password window. I really should pay more attention. I glance over at my one-year-old, Erik, who is quietly dismantling a remote control. As he looks up at me, an AA battery pops out of his mouth. Time to make some changes.
Thanks to the smartphone, my attention span has been decimated. I can't pause for a second without fumbling for my phone to check for new emails, or have another futile blast on Candy Crush Saga. I must read the news headlines 20 times a day.
I am better informed than ever, yet infinitely duller. It's not just me. In the playground on a sunny day, parents crowd in the shade to read their tiny screens. Sometimes it seems we're all so busy sharing witty status updates that we've forgotten how to live in the moment.
It's as if the joy of parenting isn't valid unless someone you met on holiday in Tenerife has given you the thumbs-up.
Naturally, this affects our kids. Erik thinks everything slab-shaped is a phone: he talks into chocolate bars and prods the pages of books, expecting them to burst into life. But Ava is a fully fledged trailblazer for the touchscreen generation, with an attention span shorter than the average YouTube clip and a constant expectation of stimulation. She's also frighteningly intelligent and hugely interactive: if she's bored by a story, she'll simply insist on a new plot twist – 'and then Ava appeared and magicked them all away' or 'then a dinosaur ate them'.
So when Lise suggests we go smartphone- and tablet-free for a week for the sake of our children, I point her in the direction of a recent report from the University of Wisconsin (bookmarked for just this occasion). It concluded that kids who interact with touchscreens learn much faster than kids who passively watch video. Let's ban TV instead, I suggest.
In truth, we can afford to do neither because, like so many parents, we can't afford a nanny and sometimes there's no alternative to plonking the kids in front of a screen so we can make the dinner, sort out the washing or post a particularly hilarious Facebook update.
After much debate, we agree three resolutions:
All grown-up apps will be child-locked
Phones and tablets are banned at the dinner table
No one is allowed to eat batteries.
Our manifesto received 17 likes within an hour – we must be on to something.