Child playing on an iPadI was at the hospital yesterday, waiting for an appointment and whilst in the busy waiting room, I overheard a conversation. There were several mums with their kids and one child was happily playing on an iPad whilst his mum waited for her appointment, whilst another boy of about 8 was looking on with interest. At this point, I got called into a sub-waiting area, but about five minutes later the mum and child without the iPad got called through to where I was sitting (bear with me, this is going somewhere…)

As they walked through, the boy was asking his Mum if he could play on her phone, seeing as he didn’t have an iPad to play with, and she turned to him and said “Don’t be ridiculous, stop asking for my phone, YOU don’t need to stare at an electronic device to keep you entertained, I raised you better than that!”.

I was quite shocked by her reaction (shocked enough to put the phone that I’d been contentedly engrossed in, whiling away the wait with a few games of ‘Where’s my Water’), but her words really got me thinking; is a child’s need for entertainment really about their upbringing? And why are electronic devices frowned upon?

I’m well aware that there’s an obesity epidemic in children that people claim to have been directly related to time spent playing computer games, but with children able to play outside less and less, is it really that much of a surprise that they look for entertainment elsewhere? And surely it’s not about the devices themselves, but the parental moderation involved?

Sausage owns a Nexus 7, a Chromebook, a Nintendo DS and Wii, an Xbox, an iPod Touch…but despite that, she doesn’t spend all of her time glued to a device because we simply wouldn’t allow it. I can’t stand the implication that once we give our kids consoles or gadgets, we relinquish all control over how they spend their time, or their wellbeing. Nor can I abide the assumption from a small amount of parents who feel like giving kids something with a screen is a substitute for parenting.

The other thing that bothered me about what the mum said was that if you need entertainment during down-time, you must’ve been raised badly. Surely the need for entertainment is a trait that’s shared by all humans? Of course, the type of entertainment varies from person to person…I love to read and blog, others watch TV, others play an instrument, others play games. There’s no right way to be entertained, but surely training a child to sit quietly with their hands in their laps instead of stimulating their brain in some way is limiting them? There’s a lot to be said for quiet contemplation, but I can’t get my head around the thought that a bored kid is a bad kid. It just doesn’t compute.

The real irony of the situation is that after that comment, the mum in question checked her phone no less than a dozen times in the period that we were sitting in that area, completely negating her own argument. Obviously, her comments got my back up on a personal level, seeing as I was sitting there on my phone at the exact moment she said it, but the urge to ask her if she’d also been raised badly after the 10th time of staring at her screen did get rather overwhelming!

The flipside of this is that, in my humble opinion, limiting a child’s access to computing is setting them back, in this day and age. We live in a world where computers are everything, and kids who aren’t highly computer literate are simply going to fall behind. Given that we now teach elementary coding in Primary Schools, we should be giving our kids more screen time in the hope that computer literacy is second nature, not something that’s like pulling teeth, which is how it seems to be for older generations for whom computers simply didn’t exist when they were young enough to soak things up like a sponge.

Aside from all of that, gaming needn’t be mindless – there are myriad apps and games out there which encourage literacy, numeracy, fine motor skills, languages and so much more. We’re happy for these things to be taught in schools, so surely we should embrace anything that broadens our children’s minds?

What do you think? Do your kids have electronic devices? Do you think that a child’s need for entertainment means that they haven’t been raised correctly? Leave me a comment below.