The recent news reports about the launch of a mobile phone for four-year-olds have caused a real stir in the media and raise questions around the role of technology in family life.
Is there really a need for a four-year-old to have his or her own mobile phone?
I can't think of an instance when a child that age would ever be (or, at risk of sounding judgmental, should ever be) without a parent or guardian. And, in my household anyway, we can't get through the week without misplacing my four year old's nursery smock, never mind an expensive piece of technology.
But then there are many times when I welcome the advances in technology my children are so lucky to be experiencing.
As a parent, I have a love/hate relationship with all these gadgets. On one hand they make our lives easier, give our children access to amazing educational information, and easily connect us to loved ones abroad. And I can't imagine ever boarding a long haul flight without my phone and iPad standing by to provide much needed distraction and entertainment. But, on the other hand, I see these 'toys' bringing out an almost addictive trait in my children and am constantly trying to strike the right balance.
Recently my husband and I were out to dinner and found ourselves sitting next to a family of five. The children were older than mine - I would guess eight, 10 and 12. Each child was sitting at the table fixated on some kind of device. I found the whole scene a bit depressing. Don't get me wrong; I have definitely handed over my iPhone to one of my children when trying to finish an adult conversation at a restaurant, but the concept of family dinner with everyone on an electronic device suggests to me the need to set some boundaries.
Aside from the obvious, such as no phones or gadgets at family meals, we have tried to set some other parameters when it comes to screen time. For example, we're trying to stick to the more educational apps during the week, and save 'pure' games as more of a treat for the weekend. A bit like my approach to food - as long as you eat your greens, there's no harm in something sweet afterwards. Although just as it can be tricky to define the difference between a snack (for energy) and a treat (a reward), it can be difficult to explain why a game with animated numbers and letters is different to Angry Birds.
We're the first generation of parents trying to navigate a world of technology for our children that is so vastly different from our own childhood experience. Our challenge is to find the happy medium of embracing all the benefits it brings, whilst not letting it interrupt good wholesome direct family interaction.
And of course, with my boys aged six and four, I'm really just controlling their access to content that I've selected myself. The next, much bigger challenge, will be to face up to them being able to access almost unlimited content, and to interact with an infinite number of individuals via today's social networks and whatever tomorrow brings. Until then, one thing at a time.
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