A few weeks ago my son Jimmy had a mate over for the day. The boy had been to our home before and he knew the drill - no tablets, computers, ipods, wiis, xboxes or anything else along those lines. And so he walked in the door and headed straight for the old organ. Jimmy picked up the ukulele. The two of them spent hours churning out their own brand of 2014 pop/rock. Sweet and hilarious entertainment. They also squeezed a car wash into the day, and while I walked the dog on the beach they built life-sized racing car in the sand.
In the past this little boy has gone so far as to say that a play date with Jimmy was the highlight of his holidays.
The thing is, we do have a tablet. And an old laptop. A very old dvd player. My daughter Jessie has an ipod nano with music only on it. I have a smart phone but that is, very specifically, mine.
Sometimes I worry. Am I denying my Gen Z offspring, the first generation never to have experienced the world pre-internet, a basic right of passage? What kind of psychological disaster am I going to cause by not purchasing minecraft?
Is my steadfast refusal to purchase such things more about my sanity? How can I not take positive peer reviews for the kids into account? Yet… my social media stream regularly features parents having child-related minecraft battles. Parents of younger kids unsure about what is/isn’t an acceptable amount of screen time each day. Steve Jobs seemed to have some firm ideas on the whole issue.
My approach - and just to be very clear, I’d never judge anyone else for their decisions because I don’t walk in their shoes – I don’t go there. I don’t buy it so the kids can’t consume it.
During the winter sport season I was chatting with a friend and another mum, running through the crazy week ahead for Jessie. Extra-curricular activities like the school play, interschool sports and an extension learning program. From my point of view it was merely a remark on the fact that everything seemed to have culminated into the one week, but the other mum made a rapid-fire comment. “Sounds like an overachieving child”.
WTF??? This is my child you’re talking about and it wasn’t my intent to brag! But of course I went home and pondered her comment. Do I push my kids too hard? I think about the lack of electronic devices in the house and my conclusion is no, they’re not pushed too hard. They’re not pushed at all. I suspect they have more time on their hands than many kids because they’re not in front of a screen.
I reflected on the year my kids have had. The new things they’ve learnt or experienced at home. How to kick and mark a footy. Monopoly and Yahtzee. Poker, blackjack, and a raft of other card games. How to build a card tower. Every loom band design you can imagine (yes ok, hello internet). Large and small art projects. How to make soap, cook a meal. Grow strawberries and herbs. They’ve washes cars for many of the neighbours. Built amazing sandcastles. Danced, sung, played their instruments – and no, they don’t get lessons. Bounced on the trampoline, mastered the hula hoop. Spent hours riding bikes, scooters and skateboards. Climbed trees and built cubby houses. Fallen out of trees. Seen snakes, bandicoots, turtles, so many different birds. Learnt how to identify several plant species. Made cards and presents for every family member and friend in existence.
Is that overachieving, or is that because they’re finding things to do? Don’t’ get me wrong – these things happen in mini-crazes. One week it’s card towers. Then next Monopoly. And so it goes. I’m not really sure if this is overachieving, or rather being pushed by some kind of default. And because they have this zest at home for finding new things to do, it seems to spill into their school life.
When Jessie was a small babe and I a much more naïve parent, I remember saying to someone of my mother’s generation “how can I be sure that my words and actions today aren’t going to be my f***-ups of tomorrow?”
My own conclusion has always been that I can’t be sure. I can only do what I believe to be best, and best right now is to keep doing what we’re doing. Besides, I can’t help but think that if Jimmy’s little mate is a critic to be listened to, then life in our house is ok.