The Third Parent

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the digital age and our generation’s reliance on devices. It’s new territory for us all and concerns have started to have been voiced about the effects that this way of life may have on children and family.

All the blogs and articles got me thinking, as someone who grew up without a TV (let alone a phone) about the way we are raising our children.

I think I’m a pretty normal mum. I wake up, check my phone for the time, then a quick scan of email, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram over morning coffee, then again after shower, and so on for the rest of the day. As part of my job is managing Bimble’s social media (plus working and being a full-time mum) there’s a strange pull between knowing I SHOULD be on my phone, and knowing I SHOULDN’T. A complicated dichotomy. This uneasy feeling has made me start thinking; is the beloved iPhone taking as well as giving?

Life now couldn’t be more different for my kids than when I was growing up on a small country cottage with no TV, where my parents had decided to live almost completely off-line and off-grid, being as close as possible to self-sufficient. There are elements of my own technology-free childhood that are so valuable to me – the fact I’d read an extraordinary amount of books before the age of 16 (compared to the smartphone years, when I’ve read embarrassingly few), growing up spending so much time outside, with animals, making my own fun, living in my imagination a lot. Learning skills from my parents. Learning to wait and watch and learning to do nothing as well as learning to do everything. And I wonder if I’m giving my children these things I hold so dear.

But there were also elements of living this way that were a challenge. I didn’t fit in with the other kids at school – it was an uphill struggle to make friends and keep them, once they realised how different I was – that after school I had to milk the goats and help cook dinner rather than flop down in front of the TV or play video games. Saying it out loud now, as an adult, it sounds like there’s no comparison. But as a child too young to understand the value in the way we lived it was tough. It set us apart. In that way it also made us stronger as we learned to stick up for ourselves from an early age and answer those awkward questions – why don’t you have a TV? Why does your Dad dance on the lawn? (he was a Tai Chi teacher) Why is your bread homemade (read – gross)? It was character-building stuff and it certainly instilled in me a fair amount of pluck. But would I wish it on my own children? Now if I give my kids homemade bread I feel like the best mum on this planet. But are they just wishing they had sliced like I was? Maybe not now but come the teenage years, almost definitely.

From my own personal experience as a child of parents who decided to live off-line, I have reservations. But as a parent myself I have a niggling feeling that I’m missing quality moments with my own family. That my children’s need for constant immediacy could be to do with too much screen time. That maybe I’m not available enough to my kids or engaged enough because my mind is always half a second away from scratching the itch to scroll mindlessly through Instagram or going on a like-sesh on Facebook while they watch TV. Always holding my phone, even when I put them to sleep.

Another niggle every time I post a photo of them on social media – should I be doing this? Is it an invasion of their privacy? What digital footprint am I creating for them now that they have no control over? Is it fair?

I’m sure I’m not alone in these thoughts. But one thing that I am grateful for, that I’m not sure many people have nowadays, is knowing what it was like to live so completely in the other direction. Sure, in a way it shaped me into someone I’m proud to be now. And I have some really precious memories. But I’m not sure I would choose that very steep path for my own. The world is changing, we can choose to move with it or we can decide to move against it. For our family we’ve decided it’s about a balance. I now limit the time on my phone during the day to strict windows. I keep my phone out of the bedroom. We limit our kid’s TV time. We are trying more to let them be bored, to chuck them in the garden and let them figure it out. To give them a pile of books instead of turning on the TV. We are in the early stages of this new approach and it’s really tough, there are meltdowns (from all of us!), I’m challenged to make my work time super productive rather than relying on hours of mindless scrolling to know what’s happening in the world. But I feel we could be on a good path, despite bumps in the road and inevitable slip-ups (because, life).

I’m not 100% sure we’ve got it right and I’m not 100% sure we’ll ever be 100% sure – but that’s parenting eh. We take from our own experiences and we do the best we can.


We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


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