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Open Features: Childminding By Remote Control

"Faced with looking after three children for a morning, all of them under four years old, I drew on my armour plating and sallied forth,'' writes Mary Basham.

Faced with looking after three children for a morning, all of them under four years old, I drew on my armour plating and sallied forth. If you gather from this I am not a natural Grandmother, you may well be right. Three pairs of blue eyes looked at me and one pair immediately started to shed huge, resentful tears. Grandma had arrived and that must mean Mummy was going somewhere and leaving him behind. Boo hoo.

Clasping the sobbing child to my ample bosom, he soon quietened down and went into a sort of daze whilst clinging tightly to his favourite toy and a comfort blanket. The other two toddlers gazed with complete fixation at some programme supposedly for children. It was still only 9.30 in the morning!

I learnt something in those first few minutes. Children will watch anything if left to their own devices, whether they understand the programme or not, and secondly, television companies need to give more thought to their scheduling. Few children watching at that time of the morning will be other than below the age of five, so why screen something more suited to early teens?

Completely numbed by the antics of a bunch American adolescents masquerading as too clever for their own good, I pressed the off button and suggested we went out into the garden. Three pairs of eyes viewed me with close to disbelief. I persisted and armed with three spoons and apples that had fallen off the tree, we played ‘sports day’; egg and spoon races, hop, skip and jump and lots of running around in circles to get them going. At just 18 months, one was a bit caught out by the idea of hop, skip and jump but his egg and spoon technique was a real winner. No chewing gum under the ‘egg’ for him, a judiciously placed thumb was all that was needed. At the end of an energetic hour, all three were laughing at just about anything, extremely hungry, thirsty and keen for a sit down and a good story.

It is a hard job at the best of times to be a parent. However, as I look around me in this age of technology, it seems that while some may moan about children’s addiction to cartoons, computer games and social networking, there is a strong case to answer for allowing it to happen in the first place. The stress and pressures of adult working life often mean that technology has become a form of convenient childminder. Frankly, that is so sad on all accounts but in particular that it is necessary in the first place.

Governments of whatever persuasion can racket on all they like about family values but the real value to the family is eating together, playing together and in any basic sense, having time together. This is increasingly becoming more difficult. If a mother doesn’t work she is sometimes seen as odd, even lazy, yet the reality is that it is often the mother’s income that makes the difference between barely surviving and having an iota of income to spare.

Perhaps keeping up with the Jones was not so much of a priority thirty years ago, or maybe life really was easier and one income was the norm and enough. I seem to remember I never sat down much or expected to have ‘me’ time and frequently ended up shopping late in the evening at the local supermarket when children had been put to bed and my husband was left in charge. Weekends in our family were spent in the countryside, walking in the Breckland wilds or surviving wet, character-building afternoons on the River Ouse in an inflatable dinghy we called the Drunken Duck. Even during the week, when the children returned from school they were inclined to play in the garden and what TV they were allowed was restricted to Blue Peter and the like. Was I a bad mother?

If today’s children are really as addicted to the idea of developing square eyes as they appear to be, the next question is, what is in store for children twenty years from now? Will children in 2032 all be rotund couch potatoes, have multiple allergies because they are never exposed to germs and above all else, be unable to function unless connected to a satellite system? As for childminding, I suspect some automated voice relayed via an implant will direct children in the art of being a child. If only it could be programmed to say, "get out in the fresh air, be active, get dirty, have a few scrapes and above all else, enjoy childhood.”

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