Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I'd rather let my kid climb a tree than play on the iPad

I almost had a heart attack one day when I discovered my six year old son and eleven year old daughter up a tree. My first instinct was to scream at the top of my voice for them to come down at once. I managed to stop in time for I suddenly recalled what one of my friends had said when I forbade my six-year-old from climbing a water pipe. 

His basic point was that in this age of the iPhone, iPad and iMac, we might have become over protective of our children.

He was right. In the dinosaur age before Facebook was launched, children used to be more active. I remember growing up in the back alley of North Bridge Road, playing hantam bola. I belonged to a group where we would organise Moon Cake Festival parties complete with story-telling and lantern-walks to look for cockroaches.

We learned to negotiate: Do we play badminton or police and thief first? We developed values like loyalty and compassion as we looked after our younger playmates. We learned to give and take, quarrel today, be friends again tomorrow and sworn enemies the next week.

In other words, we learned to function in a society with other human beings.

Francis Xavier once said: "Give me the child until he is seven and I'll give you the man." This is a powerful idea which I have been contemplating regularly as I reflect on the choice of activities that I allow for my children's recreation.

My husband has been firmly against using the television as a baby-sitter. He observed that too many parents have taken the easy way out to keep their children quiet by turning on the television. With the installation of DVD players in cars, many children have learnt to demand to watch cartoons and movies while on the road. Whether it be on the road or in the comfort of the living room, allowing children to watch television excessively deprives them of the chance to learn to communicate and interact with other people.

In addition, with the sprouting of iPhones everywhere, we have noticed a worrying trend where children as young as five are addicted to Angry Bird or punching Tom Cat. 

What is wrong with using the DVD, iPhone or the television as a baby-sitter, you might ask? Are we not living in the 21st century? Everyone is doing it and no one seems to be the worse for it. At least it keeps the children quiet while we parents can have a peaceful meal in the hawker centre or a peaceful drive.

Here are a few questions to consider. Do your children get extremely upset if these entertainment devices are taken away from them? Do your children nag at you insistently until you give them back these devices? Can they behave politely when they are with their peers or do they prefer to be left alone with these devices? Must they play with these devices while at the dinner table? 

These entertainment devices, while fulfilling their main purpose of entertaining our children, are also grooming them to be insular as it only communicates with them in a linear and singular manner. Even when they play LAN games or multi-player computer games, they are not interacting with people face to face.

Excessive use of these entertainment devices often produces children who are demanding, rude and selfish. If you do not believe me, try taking the PSP or iPhone away from a child during diner and watch his reaction. Odds are, he or she would cry, scream or nag until they get their way. Parents often would rather give in and keep them happy than use tough love and discipline them.

Frances Ess is a mother of six.

This article was first published on 11.9.2011

Here are the rest of the article that was not printed.

When they are addicted to these communication devices, parents sometime are at a lost as to what they can do. They rather give in to the children and keep them quite and made them happy then to use tough love to discipline the children.

Parents must remember they are responsible for the upbringing of their children. It is the parent who put that iphone in the hand of the child. The child does not have the means nor the ability to buy any of these communication devices. If there really is a need to let them use these devices, ensure that a strict time limit is enforced so that children realised that there is a time and place to play these games. Do not allow them to play such games during family visits to their grand parents, during diner or at children party. Provide alternative form of entertainment like going to the park, swimming or playing football where they have the opportunities to develop their physical and social self.

As young parents of children, we have to consider the environment that we are allowing our children to grow up in. When we allow our children to use such communication devices, it is the game designers and the movies producers that design the virtual world with their own rules and regulations and values. Are we abdicating our roles and responsibilities as parents?

Is it too late to change? Start by pulling the plug and see what happens.

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