sábado, 28 de febrero de 2015

Why video games and food is your problem and not mine

Since I embarked on this parenting adventure nearly nine years ago now, one of the things that have surprised me about the well-meaning people around us is that they expose my children to things that they consider bad for them and then expect me to say, 'No, they can't have that.' In other words, rather than interacting with the children, they seek their approval by giving them sweets or presents, sometimes lots of them. They're cool, and it is my job to spoil the fun. They expect me to be the controlling mother that I'm not. But when I fail to act as expected, they give me that look which says, 'Are you going to let them have all those lollies!?'

I must say, it is family and friends who do this! People who don't know us are more respectful, or better informed. Most people, if they want to give my kids sweets and they don't know me, they ask me first if that's okay. I always say it's okay to ask the children themselves. When they were very little and they didn't even know what a lolly was, I said no, thank you, no need. It was not me who introduced the children to sweets, ice cream and sodas. It was other people.

Most people find it shocking that I don't set limits to whatever my kids can eat. When I point out that it is them who are giving the bad stuff to my children, they say, well, yeah, that's what extended family and friends do, and it's the parents' job to control their children. I don't agree. In fact, I think it is rude to do this, because we parents have a lot of work and social pressure as it is. The rest of you could be more helpful by giving something you consider to be good rather than bad.

If I think alcohol is bad for you, I'm not going to buy you a bottle of booze for your birthday. But if I'm going to the shops and you ask me to buy you that bottle, I will. If you're an alcoholic, that's a symptom of deeper problems. I think all addictions hide unresolved issues from childhood. I don't think a person has an addictive nature just because. But that's just my opinion, of course.

With the children I do the same. I never offer to buy them sweets, ice cream, chips, sodas, packaged stuff and fast food. In fact, I only ever offer them fruit and veggies, free range chicken, our own eggs, sustainable kangaroo meat, some fish, and homemade meals prepared at home. The same stuff I eat. But because they have tried the food other people have given them and they say it's yummy, they ask for it when we go to the supermarket. Yesterday they asked for an ice cream. Not a box of them, just one each. Dave said he only wanted one because if we bought the box and he knew they were in our freezer, it would be too hard for him to control himself: he would want to have two or three in one go and then he would have a tummy ache. Dave and Alex are free to eat whatever we have in the house, and as much of it as they want, so he chose to set a limit for himself. Alex also decided not to buy a box. He then asked me why is it that people sell so much bad stuff in the supermarket, why do this to consumers, especially children who have trouble controlling themselves? Dave replied for me. He said, 'That's because they're only interested in making money, not in doing good to other people.'

Another example of Dave and Alex being able to control themselves without me ever having done so for them happened last Christmas. In previous years they had asked for an advent calendar and both of them ate all the chocolates in two or three days, incapable of having just one a day until Christmas Day. I laughed at this and remembered that I did the same as a kid. I never ever managed to have just the one per day. There was a lot of control in my life, at school, at home, but in this case, because I had freedom to eat all the chocolates at once, I did. Last year, however, both Dave and Alex decided totally of their own accord that they were going to do it properly. And they did. I don't think it was even a big effort. That to me proves, once again, that children can control themselves. They only need to be more trusted.

Video games and electronics is another aspect of modern parenting that is a problem for most people but not for me. I don't watch television and I don't play video games (but I help the children with them when they ask). As a result, my kids didn't do it either until they were about three (a lot later in the case of video games). I am responsible for opening the world of books to them, only because I love reading, not because they're better or worse than the new technologies. When they did start, though, they caught up with their peers very quickly. I was quite amazed at this, but children are like that, aren't they: if they're really interested they pick it up straight away.

What amazes me now is the vast majority of parents who demonise video games, or accept them but only in small doses. Reading books is at present considered an effective way of learning. Playing video games or watching television isn't (my kids still don't watch television; they watch YouTube videos instead). I know from experience that this is simply not true. My kids learn from the books we read only if they're truly interested. They are learning a hell of a lot more from the video games they play. There are already lots of studies proving how good video games are for learning. A while ago I read one claiming that professionals who had played video games when growing up had become better doctors and engineers. But I don't need to read any studies. I can see the results every day at home. Alex is now learning to write with a game called Scribblenauts. It's not meant to be educational, just fun. Dave and Alex don't play games that are obviously meant to be educational. I dislike them too.

So why would I set limits when my children are learning so much from watching the videos they like and playing the games they like? I don't, of course not. Other parents do because 'it's bad for them' (really? Says who?) or because they have to do their meaningless time-wasting homework. Again, when the children are with me, they know that I'm not going to tell them to switch off their tablets and do something else. They do it themselves, when they've had enough or they get bored. Just like I do, when I've had enough of being at the computer doing one of the things I love, which is writing. They do plenty of other things, like playing outside and with other kids. The important thing is, they decide how to spend their time, they don't need an adult controlling how much time they've spent on each activity.