Claudia Winkleman, the host of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing (the UK equivalent of Dancing with the Stars), thinks that children and even their parents rely on TVs, smartphones, and computer screens too much for entertainment.
‘The children of the future will be in therapy going, ‘I never talked to my mum and dad as they were always online.’ It’s gone a bit bonkers. We need to learn when to switch off. I’m probably the only person who doesn’t have an iPhone, and I’ve got no tellies — which is ridiculous seeing as I work in telly.”
While I agree with what Winkleman is saying — that we should actually talk to our kids and not just put them in front of screens all day — I also understand why parents do.
I am completely guilty of this myself. I am a writer and work from home, but I don’t have the luxury Winkleman has of employing nannies and housekeepers. My husband and I are on full-time childcare duty. We have no family nearby to help us and my daughter is only in preschool 15 hours a week.
Somehow I have to fit my work as a writer in with my job as a mom, which is incredibly difficult — especially when deadlines loom. It means there are times when my daughter’s around and I can’t play Guess Who? or Snakes and Ladders — I have to write. The result? I find myself turning to Mr. TV or Mr. iPad to be my default babysitter.
Sometimes, I feel I am pushed to my limits because my husband and I never get a break. My mom visits a few times a year but in general, we do everything ourselves, and having no downtime sure takes its toll. That’s why I’ll admit that just to get an hour to read the paper or watch a TV show, we give the kids our phones or iPads and say “go play upstairs.”
It isn’t ideal and first we try to find other non-screen-based activities for them to do, but there comes a point where we just want a break, and we’re not going to get that when we’re painting, drawing, or playing games with the kids. I am certain that Winkleman and other moms are able to get some me time without resorting to electronic devices to help, but for some of us those devices are a godsend.
Now, I do have rules: no screens at the dinner table as well as a time limit every day. They can only be used after homework has been done and bedrooms have been tidied. But come on, who doesn’t find these things lifesavers?
Entertaining kids is hard work – you spend an hour getting out every craft utensil in the house and after 10 minutes, they’re bored. You build a den in the basement that buys you an hour of time (if you’re lucky) before they’re bored again. Not to mention that the weather in the UK sucks most of the time (summer, where are you?) so we have a lot of indoor entertainment to come up with.
Winkleman is a well-paid TV host and her husband is a former PR agent who now produces films, so I’m sure they can afford all kinds of activities to keep their kids occupied without a screen in front of their face. But for the average parent, we can’t afford to take our kids indoor rock climbing, ice skating, and bowling every weekend. Last week a trip to see Jurassic World for four of us cost £30 (over $50) and indoor activities like bowling are $90 for two hours!
Winkleman warns that parents are obsessed with technology, much to the detriment of their children. She laments that some are “moronic” role models who waste hours staring at their cellphones instead of getting involved with their families.
I completely agree with this point. All too often I catch myself checking my phone, when I should be paying attention to the flower my daughter picked or the handstand she’s doing at the park.
But nowadays, there are so many parents — myself included — who work from home. Our working time and parenting time are intertwined, meaning sometimes we do have to take that call or check our email, even when we’re trying to be fully engaged with our children. I gave up a full-time job to become a writer, primarily to be around more for my kids, but it means that on occasion I do have to check in with my emails or make a call. The one friend I have to help in all of this is — you guessed it — the iPad!
That’s why I get frustrated when I hear Winkleman touting: “I want my children to lay in a hammock, read a book, and use their imaginations.”
Don’t we all, Claudia?
But a combination of bad weather, energetic children, and a mother who works from home means this isn’t always possible. We all have ideals. We’re all trying to be better parents, but sometimes it isn’t that easy.
So can us moms who occasionally use the iPad as our babysitter catch a little slack, please? It doesn’t make us bad moms, it simply makes us busy, normal working moms who need a break.