THE BLOG

The Rat Race Is Eating Itself When Childhood Becomes Too Expensive to Slow Down

01/10/2015 10:43 BST | Updated 30/09/2016 10:12 BST

It's little surprise to me that a school in West London is advising a complete ban on technology for kids. I know devices have turned my kids into monsters and me into a harridan. But from where I sit, there's no escaping it. Allowing my children to gorge on technology frees me up to get shit done. Much of this shit is done via technology. It has always been thus, since they were small demanding people, and while I know technology is a double edged sword, where both they, and I have become twitchy, distracted, irritable and addicted, I can't see my way clear to banishing it.

It also comes as little surprise that the advocates of this back-to-basics strategy is an 11k a year fee paying school, the Acorn School in Mordent, on the site of National Trust parkland, no less. Parents of children who can afford to splurge that sort of budget on their children's education are likely to have time (which is, after all, money) to spare, whether purchased in the form of nannies, tutors, cleaners or secretaries to give them the resources, mental and physical, to be able to cope bringing up children the old-fashioned (read: hard) way.

Quality time spent at home is expensive, whether or not we like to think about it in terms of cold hard cash. Consider the parent who stays at home, but also works from home. At some point, technology has to enable this idyllic scenario to take place, either in giving the parent room to breathe, or facilitating it in the first place. Likewise, the parent who goes to work but pays for childcare - not only does it have to be affordable, but time spent at home may not be entirely one's own - and when it is, recuperation, which for many people means slumping down in front of the telly, will need to occur at some point. No one can be fully engaged and present all the time. And neither can we just switch the modern world off.

God, how I would love to. The problem is with the modern world is everything is always so urgent. We are all of us in a rush. Technology has sped up the rate of interactions, making almost everything, from acquaintances, the workplace and very nearly childhood, slightly harried and disposable - a tick box exercise devoid of real meaning and value. My annual leave is spent shoehorning 'experiences' for my children into long weekends, and eking out the childcare outside of term time rather than kicking back for lazy months of creative ennui and valuable human exchanges that aren't simply spent bickering with your partner and kids in the back of a car.

I wish I could slow down and hold on to my children's childhoods. I have even cut my working hours to make sure I drink it all in and give them as much of me as I can, but often this means more rushing - tetchy mornings spent hurrying breakfast to get them out the door so I can squeeze my working day into shorter hours for less pay (not doing less work, though, obviously), so that at the very least I can pick them up from school. But we still hurry to clubs, or piano or if not, they are so used to their routine of switching on the moment they get in the door, there is often little more for me to do than make tea and browse Facebook, once the laundry's been folded.

It's an impossible rut to get out of, especially once these habits have been formed, but in order not to form them, mothers (and fathers) need not be rushed back to the workplace, or if want to be, they need to be well paid enough to be able to balance work and home without so much compromise - and that also mean not losing so much contact with the world outside home they are desperate for any adult interaction, even if it's just digital - the heaviest Facebook users, after all, are new mums.

Kids, too must have the time and space to encourage playtime and discovery and boredom, rather than deadlines and 'achievements'. They need well-meaning but absent relatives not to ply them with guilt-induced technology, and peers who don't have the latest gadgets to wave in their faces. Perhaps more controversially, or at least, realistically, parents need to be recompensed for the things that historically they have done for love.

Because in a world where the brutal market forces rule supreme, and we all have to work harder to not get very far, things done freely are not valued by society - and childhood, which is becoming more expensive by the year, is becoming less valued by the minute, so much so that many are simply choosing not to offer it at all, with birth rates falling sharply the world over. Yet this, at least might tip the balance of power back in favour of workers.

But is it surprising, when a slow grown childhood that keeps the modern world at bay, is in reality only available to the very rich? For, however much the rest of us might choose to avoid it, sometimes technology is the only thing that holds our precarious lifestyles, driven by the need to live and work and socialise in our ever dwindling personal time, together at all.