Some playgroups and toddler groups are banning parents from using mobile phones – so is this a breath of sanity for a tech-crazy generation, a sensible reaction to child safety issues, or the nanny state gone mad?
I'm going to hold my hands up here. I'm probably the worst offender when it comes to my mobile phone. I'm a freelancer. It's always buzzing. I'm always emailing. Even at toddler groups. Especially at toddler groups, when my two-year-old is happily playing away and there are 17 important messages coming in.
There have been some manic weeks when I've even considered bringing my laptop to the toddler group, but even I think that might be a step too far.
I know this makes me a Bad Mother; I know it's terribly anti-social; I'm really very sorry. It would actually be a huge relief if somebody would stop me.
I like to think that I'm actually being terribly virtuous. I want to tell people 'I am working, you know. I'm not just faffing about on Facebook!" Except, of course, when I am.
But I know it's not just me. Many other parents at toddler groups are glued to their phones. They're texting, Facebooking, emailing, working, playing games, looking something up, taking advantage of a few minutes when their child isn't demanding their instant attention.
The trouble is, while we're staring at our phones, our children are running riot. They're bashing each other over the head, fighting over the toy pans, stealing all the biscuits and running each other over with the tractor. Or perhaps they're discovering something exciting, making friends, or learning a new skill while we stare at our Twitter feeds.
Many Sure Start children's centres, which hold toddler groups, music, play and other sessions, have a blanket ban on the use of mobile phones. I thought this must be a child protection issue – Sure Start centres are by their nature very big on child safety.
One Sure Start centre, Hunsbury, in Northamptonshire, reminds parents: "During sessions held within our centre please can everyone remember not to use their mobile phones during these times. We thank you for your support with this."
However, another Northamptonshire centre, Manor School Children's Centre, suggests that it's more about parents paying attention to their children. "Our Centre agreement asks parents to ensure that all children are kept safe and supervised during Centre sessions," the Manor School policy says.
"Therefore, parents are requested to keep mobile phone calls to a minimum during sessions to allow them to focus on the interaction with their children. Any urgent calls that need to be taken should be taken outside the session."
You don't need a mobile phone to ignore your child, though. Ten years ago, when smartphones weren't everywhere, mums sat around in gaggles and talked to each other. They were quite capable of ignoring their little darlings while they gossiped with each other about the friend that wasn't there that day.
In fact, I bet many parents have turned to their mobile phones in relief after being cold-shouldered by the 'in crowd' at a toddler group so many times. I've been to new toddler groups where nobody spoke to me. Nobody. Not even the organisers. Oh, how I wished I could bury myself in my mobile phone then. But instead, trying to be sociable, I sat, and smiled at people, and hoped for a conversation starter. Of course, this becomes less and less likely, the more we retreat into our own private digital worlds.
Catherine, a mum of two from North Yorkshire, says a ban isn't necessary – but common sense and good manners are.
"People just need to remember manners and not to be rude," she says. "People forget that phones have a silent facility and also an answer machine. It's amazing how many folk forget!
"It's too mad a situation to be using your phone as you need to look what your child is doing... usually snatching toys, not taking turns and hitting other children! Ignoring your phone for a hour or two isn't going to kill a parent."
Wise words. The trouble is, I don't think simply asking me to be sensible with my phone is really going to cut it. My willpower is too weak. Somebody is going to have to stage an intervention. Before it's too late. Ban my mobile phone!
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