If parents really want their kids to stop using screens, they’ll have to tackle their own phone addictions first
Sadly, we can’t choose our parents, but children have to be able to ask questions and not assume that mum and dad always know best – because they don’t
I’m starting to feel really sorry for kids, burdened with ghastly individuals called parents. These people regularly issue orders, impose arbitrary rules (always claiming they know best) but never seem to do any self policing of their own less than perfect lifestyles. Isn’t this grossly unfair? Aren’t adults the biggest bunch of hypocrites around?
This week, England's chief medical officer offered guidelines about limiting the way children use social media, in order to maintain a healthy mind and body. Professor Sally Davies says they must not be allowed to take phones into their bedroom. Parents should enforce breaks every two hours, enforce a ban during mealtimes and track the amount of time their children spend each day looking at phones and tablets.
At present, pre-school children spend 4 hours and 16 minutes a day looking at a screen – so the problem is immense. That’s time they should be talking, playing and interacting with other kids. Seven out of 10 children aged 12 to 15 are allowed to take their phones to bed.
When I grew up, rules were issued every day from the two commanders in Mission Control, but this was long before modern technology. My strict rules related to eating everything on a plate, not having a certain expression on my face (sulky), standing up straight and not slouching, and not poking my sister in the ribs at every opportunity. When rules were broken, I got a whack with a hairbrush. I poked food in my socks and my pockets, and tried to push my sister down the stairs (unsuccessfully), and finally walked out of the family home when I was 19.
I discovered how hypocritical my own parents were several decades later, when – after my mother had berated my choice in men and the fact I was married twice by the age of 30 – I discovered my parents were married to other people when they met and produced me! I was born out of wedlock to an ill-matched pair who bickered constantly. For all their feeble attempts at imposing their idea of “morality” on me, they had no qualms about dumping their initial partners and moving on when it suited them.
Sadly, we can’t choose our parents, but children have to be able to ask questions and not assume that mum and dad always know best – because they don’t.
An Indian man is planning to sue his parents for giving birth to him – because he didn’t give his consent! An extreme position, maybe, but Raphael Samuel does have a point.
The UK has a nanny government obsessed with telling citizens what to eat and how to exercise (place one foot in front of the other). Now they are telling parents how to raise their children, after failing to control the tidal wave of porn, mutilations, and violent imagery on social media.
Suddenly, the government has woken up to the fact that phones are not just addictive, but can trigger mental health issues, low self-esteem and self-harming, so the next generation must be given rules to limit their potential damage. Too bloody late! You can’t put a tiger back in its cage, as one “expert” was saying on the radio yesterday.
Is it appropriate for anyone over the age of consent to be imposing rules about the dangers of screen addiction? Who do we see crossing the road, glued to their phones? Adults. Who sit in restaurants and cafes not speaking but staring at their phones in the hope of getting any kind of a message or a “like”? Grownups. Parents can’t control their own use of phones and screens, so the idea of them imposing bans on their children is fatally flawed.
Perhaps new homes could be built with a box by the front door in which all the family phones and tablets are locked overnight and in the evening. I can hear you laughing – obviously it would never work. Digital detoxing has to be learnt (and seen as desirable) by adults before it can be imposed on children. Currently it’s a fashionable option for a weekend break in a luxury spa or remote Highland cottage for two.
There’s talk about banning phones in schools, but how about banning them in the workplace, in cafes and anywhere that food is served? How about issuing rewards to families who manage to sit around a table together for a minimum of 30 minutes once or twice a week and actually hold some kind of a conversation? This would be a new experience for me – growing up over half a century ago children were not allowed to talk at the table, other than to ask if we could step down and wash up our plate.
The education secretary wants schools to teach resilience, to have extracurricular activities that build confidence so that state-educated children can perform better at interviews and achieve better employment. A good intention, but it skirts around the central dilemma – as long as parents and children are holding a phone for over four hours a day, they are basically limiting their life choices, not enriching them. They are stunting their social development, speaking skills and ability to form meaningful relationships.
Parents are the people who post pictures of their small children on social media, before they have reached the age of consent. Before their children have their first phone, their images are out there, on the internet.
The last person to monitor mobile phone use is a parent – most are hopelessly addicted.
A farewell to my friend Pat Llewellyn, who transformed how we watch cookery on TV
I feel very lucky to have known a wonderful woman called Pat Llewellyn. There are very few people in the television business who I respect, but Pat was inspirational, a genius at finding talent and creating memorable and award-winning shows, from Two Fat Ladies, The Naked Chef, Heston’s Feasts to Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.
She even persuaded me to rear pigs and calves for Channel 4’s food series The F Word with Gordon Ramsay – what a nightmare! We fought and shouted and became good friends.
Pat loved eating, drinking, gossiping and living every single day to the max. She was far cleverer than any of her on-screen stars.
Sadly, she died from cancer aged 55 in October 2017. This week, her husband Ben created a brilliant memorial in her honour, hosting a dinner on what would have been Pat’s birthday. We ate roast suckling pig, drank good wine, and stood to offer tributes. I heard from her hairdresser, her school friends, her neighbours and friends. Stories of her small kindnesses and huge generosity. It was a humbling experience, and one I will treasure.