My column published recently in The Catholic Weekly.
For Christmas our older children finally got the iPad they had wanted for a while, one for them to share. It had been an item on the older two children’s Christmas wish lists – long lists they weren’t invited to make but left around for us to see anyway.
Then, independently, an aunty and uncle called to ask Peter and I if they could buy them one. They were solemnly presented with it and to all of us it seemed like some new kind of rite of passage.
We’re very much into limiting access to internet technology in our home, and I have to admit that one reason I initially baulked at the offer was a completely selfish one. I’d enjoyed being spared the job of monitoring the children’s use of it.
Managing the use of the TV, DVD player, and the occasional strictly supervised game or homework assignment on my laptop – the sole computer in our house – is so easy and has been all we’ve had to do up to now.
I also enjoyed a certain feeling of pride that our children weren’t obsessed with staring at little screens but actually spent most of their free time outside playing together.
I am just as concerned about them becoming dependent on digital devices for enjoying their leisure time, as I am about me becoming too dependent on them as a way of keeping the children quiet and occupied so I can do my own thing.
This is the main way I see the use of iPods, iPads, mobile phones and the like interfering with family life.
But we know they aren’t evil in themselves and after laying down some basic rules and getting ourselves up to date on filtering options, passwords, and administrator accounts, we are launching ourselves into the new world that is children and mobile technology.
The first thing I found when I went to trusty Google for advice on protecting our innocents against nasty pop-ups, advertisements, links to dodgy websites, viruses, or who-knows-what-else, was an article entitled ‘Don’t Give Your Children Porn for Christmas’.
Despite its alarming title and the fact that it was promoting the author’s own protection software it was quite useful as a practical guide and also pointed out what we already know but sometimes need to be reminded of when it comes to raising children.
That the best defence against any harm coming to them is for us parents to educate ourselves, to establish boundaries and communicate the reasons for them, and to train our children in virtue and self-control so that as they grow they will be able to set and stick to limits for themselves.
It’s constant work, this child-rearing business! I’d be very comfortable to continue keeping the older children playing with blocks and dolls and running around outside for ever, but they want and need to do more!
They want to cook real food using the stove and real knives, to make movies on their iPad and send them to family and friends, to bath and dress their little brother without any help from their parents.
I think it’s good for them to do these things, but it’s hard for me to let them do these things; hard for them to let them take on more adult tasks when my instinct is to delay anything that seems even a bit potentially harmful to me.
I think that delaying is one great strategy to use with young children, but I can see now that with two pre-teens in our family that we’re moving from ‘delay’ as our primary mode with them to ‘discernment’.
Much prayer is needed, and also great confidence that God is with us in all the big and little firsts in our families that are before us this year.