18 Feb 2019, Catherine Gaunt
It’s confusing being a parent. You’re constantly subject to a myriad of opinions about what you should and shouldn’t allow your children to do. The overbearing weight of being responsible in the face of the huge engine of big business seems to undermine good intentions at every step, and the people who should be watching your back (such as your representatives in Parliament) really aren’t doing a lot to help.
This was all brought home to me reading the apparently conflicting advice on screen time. What appears startlingly absent in the recommendation to forbid screens at the dinner table (for those who eat at a table) and limit time to a two-hour maximum is what should children do instead? The difficulty is rarely giving something up, but finding something to replace it with.
There has always been a tension between parents feeling that children are ‘safe’ online as they are physically present and ‘at risk’ when out of the house (such as playing on the street). It is so important for growing children to be away from the gaze of their adoring parents in order to build a sense of self. This is when you discover your limits – what you feel comfortable with and what you believe to be right, or wrong.
It was sad then to read of insurers refusing cover for adventure playgrounds in London and Bristol. The adventure playground and ‘Rec’ were the go-to places for children in my generation. Here we made (and lost) friends, they were child-centric, where adults were a minority, and they offered a space to understand how life worked. We learnt about who to avoid, who had the best stuff and where we fitted in.
In these times with obesity, junk food, social stagnation and fragile mental health, we need to think about the future we are creating for children. The Government’s response to the Evidence-based early years intervention report was just to talk about the billions it was spending in such a way it made very little sense to anyone normal. To me it looked like smoke and mirrors. You can see what’s being taken away; you just have to walk down a local street. There is a reason that parks and playgrounds fall into disrepair: primarily funding. The decision that councils have laid in front of them after a decade of austerity is stark: do you fund the high-needs SEND budget or a playground?
We are allowing the mega-rich a carte blanche to ride roughshod over ordinary lives, filling bellies with sugar and salt and minds with an unobtainable utopia. Dependence on third-party apps for a first-hand life do not a happy future make.