This week, my radio told me that my kids eat too much sugar, are obese, have far too much screen time, and that I don’t let them out to play unsupervised. Ever. Well, not just me – all of us. The entire country of Ireland is filled with parents who are messing up big-time when it comes to bringing up children, if my radio is to be believed. And I literally only listen for about forty minutes a day – when I’m in the car, but without children in tow (not so much for fear of inappropriate content, but because trying to listen to three people talk at the same time is tough enough without adding a radio presenter to the mix.)
And I always want to tweet something in response to whichever expert or radio presenter is decrying my parenting skills, but of course, I’m always driving. By the time I park, the moment is gone, so I have a little rant in my head instead. (And now here.)
I wonder if it was always like this – were our parents judged? Did they question their abilities? Did they worry about whether we were growing up to be confident, well-adjusted kids or were they too busy trying to pay 1980s taxes and mortgage rates? I have absolutely no idea. But it seems to me that today we’re caught between a rock and a hard place. We’re seen as overthinking everything (yes, yes, I know). We’re accused of looking to experts and books instead of trusting our own judgement. We’re cosseting our kids and not giving them the gift of independence. We should go back to the way things were, and let the kids run free. Forget the experts. But wait. You need to listen to the experts after all. Because they need to tell you about sugar and obesity and screen time and social anxiety – because we’re all doing it wrong.
An expert on the radio last week said that many primary school children suffer from anxiety and that it’s because they’re on social media. Two days later, another expert said that children aren’t allowed to play freely any more – they don’t make up games. And a radio presenter said no parent in Ireland ever lets their kids play outdoors unsupervised, and all the mammies drive them to school in their SUVs.
I really want to text in and tell them my kids aren’t on social media and don’t yet have devices and do play outside and we don’t have an SUV. And that they do make up games – wonderful, imaginative, made-up games with cardboard boxes for props. They pretend to be puppies and dinosaurs and babies. They play school and doctors and hide and seek. And I know that just because I say it’s so doesn’t mean it’s true for everyone but I sincerely doubt my kids are the only ones in the country still experiencing a fairly standard childhood and still running around every now and then.
Information is wonderful but my God, we’re bombarded with so much of it, often conflicting, and we’re criticised if we pay too much attention, but equally if we don’t know the latest rules. We’re supposed to know what to do, we’re supposed to follow our instincts, we’re supposed to listen to experts, and according to my radio, we’re all doing it wrong. Maybe I need to become less sensitive. Or maybe I just need to find a new radio station.