I like to watch Child of our Time, given that the 25 kids it is following were all born within days of Charlotte. I generally like the psychological tests and know instinctively whether or not Lots would have conformed to the general outcomes. When they were analysing how the kids conformed along gender lines last week, I just knew Charlotte, if left to her own devices, had she been chosen for the study, would not have come out the changing room in the mini-adult pink sparkly dress all the other girls chose, for example.
This week was interesting on many levels. It followed 24 hours in all 25 8 year old kids' lives. The statistics it gave were dreadful. I felt more and more smug as the programme went on because I realized I was actually doing better than most of the families.
The first surprising statistic was that only 3 of 25 kids ever sat at a table with the rest of their family for an evening meal. The majority ate quick foods in front of the TV on the couch. In some families the mum ate at a table with the kids while the dad came home too late. The last and also popular scenario was one where the kids were fed and sent to bed before the adults even started to think about their meal. Twenty two of the twenty five kids had no concept of a family meal. That in itself might not seem important but the dinner table is a place where families talk about their day. It is a place of communication. Communication between partners but also as your kids get older and want to spend more time with friends or in front TV, a small chance for you to have relaxed communication with your child. Having spent years married to a man who came home and checked the microwave after we'd eaten every night, I set that as one of the rules for my new life. We'd have a meal at the table every night at about the same time and it would only be moved or cancelled in exceptional circumstances. There are 2 more rules in my house: no toys at the table, no texting at the table. This may annoy the kids but it means the family meal is just that - a family meal. I sat gobsmacked watching kids play, read, text, even play play station while eating alone. They did everything but eat and talk.
The next astounding statistic was the number of hours kids watched TV or played PS2 (and the likes). Ask my kids, I am the first to rant constantly that they are turning into zombies, that the TV has to go off and I jump up and down like an irate lunatic. So I was worse than horrified to find out my kids actually were at the low end of the TV hours scale. There were kids watching 9 hours in a row on there!
Next, but no surprise to me were the hot house kids, as I like to refer to them. I see them at my kids' school every day. I mean the kids that are enrolled in so many afterschool activities that they don't actually get a minute to draw a breath. They run from school to football, to piano, to chess, to karate. They have to buy a takeaway and eat it in the car as they don't actually get home till bedtime and their parents are always moaning their kids can't fit in homework. And the parents, of course, never see each other! I sat in horror watching a crazy mother driving her kid to tennis lessons 4 times a week over an hour's drive from home, returning all 4 nights at bedtime. The 8 year old cried a tantrumed in such a dangerous manner beside her in the car from exhaustion, that I genuinely think she should have stopped driving as she couldn't possibly have been concentrating on the road. What benefit is this regime to an 8 year old? I have nothing against the odd afterschool activity - My 2 big ones have tried several: football, martial arts, badminton, swimming, tennis - but an hour, 2 at most a week, never 4pm-8pm every night. Let them have time to relax, play, use their imagination!
Finally, and worst of all I sat with my mouth hanging open as the parents discussed the freedom they allowed their kids. I thought back to 8 - I was allowed to walk to school, walk to a friend's house, walk from my granny's to the corner shop and buy Saturday breakfast - rolls, eggs, juice and a few added extras. I could play in the field behind my house, in neighbours' gardens and generally wander about my estate. By 9 I was cycling to school on the road with no helmet! I can't remember the exact numbers but I know only 1 child in this study was granted the freedom I had at that age. Two, perhaps three more were allowed to play outside their garden but within sight of their parents. They weren't allowed to walk to school either. The most shocking was the fact that many of the kids weren't allowed in their own garden, none were allowed to the park. This wasn't because of traffic levels, which are much worse since we were kids but because people actually believed kids were so likely to be kidnapped or abducted that they wouldn't allow them out. Time and time again parents said they preferred their kids alone upstairs on a PS2 because they knew where they were! Don't people realize that abductions hit the headlines because they are uncommon, not because they are common? How are these kids, caged till 16, going to cope when they are thrown out into the world? When they are forced to leave home to go the uni or whatever, before they have even learned to cross the road alone. What damage are these people inflicting on their kids?
I let my kids cross the road and go shopping alone. Charlotte can go see granny just as Little red riding hood did many moons ago. They can go play football out of my sight in the field. Lots is allowed to go cycling up and down the pavements round the corner in neighbouring streets away from my line of vision. I have given them mobile phones so I can contact them. I am not 100% happy when they are out of my sight, no parent is, but I am 100% sure I am better preparing them for adulthood than by locking them in a bedroom alone. What will these kids remember of their childhoods? What life skills will they lack? How will they know how to parent themselves?