Screen time and parental guilt

Not a day goes by that there is not something in the papers to make you feel you are failing your kids with regard to screen time.



From time to time I emerge from the exhaustion of everydayness to contemplate Parenting, to be precise My Parenting. It’s not a particularly positive thing because mainly I think I’m going through a coasting period where I’m not really totally in charge. This may in fact be a period that has lasted for the entire length of time I have been a parent with the odd moment where I feel I know what is going on. My partner is in similar mode, but without any accompanying sense of guilt.

In theory, the kids would do all sorts of amazing hobbies, developing their passions, passions that will help their mental health and make them happier people all round. In theory the kids would get up early on Mother’s Day – or any random day – and do the washing up and tidy a bit. In theory they would get on with each other and, for instance, when asked to suggest a film they all liked be able to come up with at least one and sit and watch it together in glorious togetherness.

The closest we’ve got to ‘hobbies’ are free taster days [gymnastics, musical theatre, street dance, etc] and activities such as ballet, tap dance, swimming, drumming, sewing etc, which lasted about two weeks before initial enthusiasm waned and it was like extracting teeth to get them to go. Things like bands and drama lasted a bit longer, but have also fallen by the wayside. Daughter three doesn’t want to do anything at all in her spare time. I mentioned the words hobby and passion and she rolled her eyes. For spare time substitute Netflix. Only son is a bit better, but rails against the injustice of being forced to do football club even though he likes it when he’s doing it. Dance club has been abandoned. He hates the very idea of newspaper club [“I’m too young to be thinking about jobs, mum”, he argues, despite my efforts to make newspapers sound fun, fun, fun. To him, journalism looks too much like hard work. He’s seen me doing it and it’s not filling him with enthusiasm].

I’m not so worried about the older ones as they have too much else going on – daughter two is way too busy with GCSEs, supporting her friends through various emotional crises and generally saving the world through veganism. Her ideal job, she says, is “Activist”. The problem is that activism needs to extend beyond eating lentils, though it’s clearly a start. Daughter one is busy planning university life.

My main parenting guilt trip is screen time. Not a day passes without some article or book telling us about limiting screen time and with each one comes a dull sense of failure. Daughter three seems to spend all her life in the midst of immense Netflix series that she is always “catching up on”. “I just need to get to the end of the third series,” she says when I try to restrict usage. Daughter two is constantly on her phone to her mates, but seems to be playing a supportive role.

Only son doesn’t really like tv, but he is completely in thrall to Youtube, particularly something called Morgz – a teenager who shouts a lot and does random challenges with his family and girlfriend which seem to involve spending inordinate amounts of money, eg, buying cars with his mum’s credit card. On only son’s wish list for his birthday is a Ferrari. I blame Morgz. “It’s not for me, mum, as I can’t drive yet. It’s for the family,” explains only son. I pointed out that a Ferrari would not fit our family and what’s the point of being able to go fast when we live in a 30 mile an hour speed zone. Only son looked a bit deflated and pointed to number two on his list – a Macbook pro 2015. At the bottom was Sharpies and pencils, which seems a bit more realistic.

I have tried all manner of attempts to limit screen time, including taking screens away and having frequent long rants about them being bad for you. The other day, after such a rant, I came downstairs to find only son on the computer with his glasses on [for seeing things in the distance]. “See, mum, much better for me,” he said. The problem is I am not a consistent parent. I ebb and flow due to the demands of everyday life. I feel like the weekend should be packed with mini marathons or some such. I’ve seen other people doing family park runs on Facebook and my heart sinks every time. The mere suggestion of going out walking or running in the neighbourhood in the daylight when people can see you gets a major thumbs down from the teens.

To be honest, my ideal weekend would involve doing absolutely nothing at all or finding just one film which everyone could watch together and enjoy. The only film that has ever united everyone is High School Musical – a nostalgia trip for the teens and me. I really felt I knew those characters, having lived through every film in the series. I have to admit that I miss them. Last week I was writing a suggested quote for a press release. “Once an xx scholar, always an xx scholar,” I started. I knew it sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite remember from where. “It’s High School Musical, mum. Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat,” said daughter one. That film has entered the deepest realms of my subconscious and there’s no escape.

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