Grrrr. I found it really frustrating to read the latest reports telling us that our children live unhappy lives. But I found it even more frustrating to discover that this is partly due to us as parents. Apparently we are trapped in a materialistic culture. And although our kids would prefer to spend time with us (particularly outdoors), we don't do this with them. Instead we buy them more and more gifts.
It is never pleasant to think that your children - or any others - might be unhappy. But I'm afraid that the report does not surprise me. Instead it makes me rather angry. After all, isn't there an obvious solution to this materialistic crisis? We need to stop whinging and make some (possibly difficult) decisions. We should spend more time with our children and also make sure they don't get everything they ask for (particularly as some kind of guilty response to our parental shortcomings). In other words, just say no.
A few months ago I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about choosing to hit the glass ceiling, making the decision to spend more time with your children, even though this would very probably impact on your career. I think this report (and the heated discussions about the new Sarah Jessica Parker film, I don't know how she does it) are all part of this. When you have children you open yourself up to a world of many joys (some of them completely unexpected). It changes you. But it also means you have to re-examine your priorities.
For the last few years I have been writing about education. This has made me even more aware of how important parents are - in this field as well as so many others. Parents are a huge influence on their children, educationally as well as socially. I find it hard to believe that parents don't realise the vital importance of talking to their kids (not just putting them in front of a screen), singing to them, reading to them and taking them on outings (from local parks to museums). How can mothers and fathers of small children think that at a TV in a bedroom, or DVD before going to sleep can compensate for reading a book together? Why do so many people think that their young child won't be able to cope without an Xbox, DSI, Playstation or mobile phone?
Of course there is value in technology, but lots of children spend mindless hours watching a screen and not engaging. Yes, they enjoy it, but, if they got the chance, they might also like to be doing something else, even though this something might be less convenient for parents (requiring a trip other involvement). Children need to be able to think for themselves, to work out problems, to do jigsaws or play board games. All this helps them to develop, socially and academically.
I am not, by the way, talking about kindergarten Kumon, tutors or more lessons. I am talking about time for children to play (that's what they want to do), develop their imaginations, maybe learn an instrument or a sport. I am talking about parents who listen to their children (putting their mobile phones down) and prioritise some time with them. I am not talking about parents who hover around their children all the time or over-protect. Am I mad to think this is common sense?
Becoming a parent requires you to realise that you are not the only person who matters in the world. You need to think what's best for them, not you. It's not usually the latest gadget, but it might be giving up your time and attention. Surely that's not rocket science.
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