My youngest children, like most of their generation, love their electronic entertainment but, unlike some, they don't live for it. They communicate with their friends and the outside world quite happily and, for them, electronic games are a form of occasional entertainment. I am grateful for this. I have heard about children who play on Xboxes from dawn to dusk at weekends, chatting away with who knows who from the other side of the world. Then there are the online computer games, also played with others whose only real identification is their nickname online. I find this worrying. Of course, the pressure on parents to let this go on because 'everybody else's parents let them' is immense. If you have children, you will know of the conversation I speak of!
The balance between letting your teenager find their 'identity' (including helping them get streetwise) and keeping them safe is hard. Really hard. I don't know if it is harder to do with girls or boys as I only have experience with girls but this is one area I am immensely grateful for mobile phones. I can let my girls go out knowing they are a phone call away and so am I.
In the 1970's we could wander miles from our parents at a young age. School holidays were spent leaving home in the morning and heading out to the river or woods with friends and coming home at lunchtime when we were hungry or in the evening if we had been given money for chips. Nowadays, parents are less inclined to allow that and who can blame them. The internet is a wonderful tool but it can also be used for darker purposes and it is this which has changed the way a parent views the world when it comes to their child. Rightly so, as we have all heard the horror stories so there is no need to highlight them here.
Children are growing up faster because they don't have the chance to BE children for long. Their world is flashing images, high speed information, adult expectations of success, the impression that money is everything and fame is a matter of looking good. The pressures on them to become mini adults are huge. There is no time to 'play', to 'be' or to use their imagination when bored. Some children want entertainment provided, they expect it. It's not because they are selfish, it's because everything they see on TV, in video games, in magazines celebrates excess, beauty, money and power. Basic values are lost. They learn what society teaches them. For some parents, the battle to keep their babies playing with Lego and dolls is soon lost as they start school and become immersed in a faster world.
So as a mother of five, I say this. Cherish those times between birth and when they start school. Show them the world of imagination by teaching them to read and sharing books with them. Let them see the beauty of nature in the glorious Earth we live on. Help them grow the ability to think things out for themselves, to question the world around them and to want to change it for the better. Show them the value of money, the satisfaction gotten from working hard to achieve a goal. Give them something tangible to achieve and praise the effort not just the outcome.
The best gifts you can give them aren't material, they are your time, your love, your counsel and the ability to see that other people and their feelings matter. Show them the gift of what compromising and discussion can achieve. Give them a sense of worth in themselves and others. These things are much more use 'out there' than anything which needs electricity to function and will never be discarded because they are out of fashion.