Used as a creative prop, screen time is fine for children

According to figures compiled by the Central Statistics Office back in 2020, ‘almost a fifth of internet users use a virtual assistant in their home’. I suppose this means these homes have a smart speaker like Alexa or Google Home, etc.

However, despite the fact researchers at the school of clinical medicine at Cambridge University have suggested that, when used in the home, these devices could actually ‘hinder children’s social and cognitive development’, I’d imagine if this study were repeated today, that figure would rise significantly. Why? Because busy parents need, and busy parents deserve, to have a bit of peace, quiet and head space…that’s why!

I’m no expert, just a parent who’s raised two daughters to adulthood, albeit in an era before smart devices were ever a major ‘thing’. However, I have babysat my granddaughters, and – full disclosure, readers – in a moment or two of sheer frustration and utter exhaustion, when I’ve been desperate for a coffee and two paracetamol, I’ve handed those kids my smartphone or my tablet to keep them ‘entertained’.

And yes, I do know some boffin at the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggested that ‘infants under the age of one should have no exposure to screens whatsoever’. However, this genius never had to drive a vehicle containing my beautiful, amazing, super-intelligent, yet highly energetic and extremely vocal youngest grandchild! Besides, in my defence, sometimes poor Nana’s sanity not only relies heavily upon, it also depends on an episode (or three) of Peppa Pig!

Back in the day, when I gave birth to my granddaughter’s mammy, being a young, naïve teenage mammy myself, I’d decided I wasn’t going to give my baby a soother to suck (or a doody as she called it). I had this romantic notion that, whenever she cried, I’d rock my gurgling girl to sleep, soothing her with softly-sung lullabies whilst we both basked in the glow of the moonlight! Yeah right!

That all changed the second I realised a 3 am rendition of ‘Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral’ and ‘Hush Little Baby’ wasn’t going to cut it as effectively as a soother soaked in gripe water – to ease her colic of course. Sadly, the wet-blanket brigade have since banned gripe water due to its alcohol content.

Fast-forward to today, and, I have to admit, if I were parenting a toddler I’d be purchasing enough electronic and battery-operated tat to fill an entire warehouse.

I will add though that I’d be placing screen-time limits on this ‘tat’; and, while I’m not in any way telling anyone how to parent their child, I’d strongly suggest that ground rules would need to be set and stuck to.

For example, I’d be limiting their time to twenty minutes while I grabbed a coffee or scanned through a newspaper. Thirty minutes while the ankle-biter sits in the supermarket trolley, allowing me to get the food shopping done. I’d give the child a bit longer to serve as a distraction for them while travelling on a long car journey, etc. You get my drift.

I would however, draw the line at using these devices as a routine distraction to occupy a child for hours and hours at a time – for the simple reason (as we all know)  the way in which kiddies develop is through social interaction, something which no device can provide.

Nonetheless, it must be said that we do live in a tech-filled world, and, so long as these devices aren’t replacing a richer experience for our kids like a game of football or a visit to the park, then I have to ask, what real harm are they doing?

When all is said and done, and in order to move with the times, it’s obvious to me that an element of screen-time is not only going to be important for our kids, it’s also going to be necessary.

At the end of the day, it’s my belief that our kids will be okay so long as we, their parents, understand that the overriding factor regarding these devices hinges on two things – one, the content they’re viewing and two, the context of their technology-based experience.

Remember folks, our kids’ screen-time should never be allowed to act as a controlling element in their development, but rather as a creative prop.

Again, I’m no expert, and I’m not handing out parental advice, but as these smart devices only have the amount of power over our kids that we, their parents/grandparents/guardians give them, it’d seem to me that setting boundaries is key.

Stop trying to humiliate breastfeeding mothers

Regular readers will know I’ve written previously about my own experience of breastfeeding my kids; as in, tried it, wasn’t mad about it, stopped it, switched to formula. However, I would always support any mother who chooses to breastfeed, whether they’re doing it exclusively, or using a combination of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding either with pumped-milk or formula.

I could be wrong, but, given the stories I’ve heard, and, given one mother’s much-publicised negative experience at the UCD Sport and Fitness centre – where she claims she was asked to ‘stop breastfeeding her baby at the side of the toddler pool’ – it’s my belief that there are some serious pedants out there! It also seems that mothers who do choose to exclusively breastfeed are being picked on, pointed at, confronted, and singled out for doing something in public which they’re not just morally entitled to do, but which they’re also legally entitled to do.

Under the Equal Status Act (2000-2015) – although breastfeeding is not actually mentioned – breastfeeding mothers are protected from discrimination under the gender and family status provisions of the act. They’re also protected from harassment – including sexual harassment. This means a breastfeeding mother can use a range of services which are provided by places of hospitality (i.e. restaurants, hotels, shops, etc.) to feed their babies without having to seek permission from anyone to do it! So don’t fall into the, ahem, ‘booby-trap’ (pun intended) of thinking you can get away with humiliating a mother for nursing her child.

However, I will add that, even though it’s not technically illegal for someone to request a breastfeeding mother to cover up while feeding her baby, the act prohibits against ‘direct and indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment’.

Therefore, while I know for some mothers, (me included), breast is not always best, I think it’s about time the fault-finding, easily-upset snowflakes among us stopped body-shaming those who do choose to do it.

Comhghairdeas on your BAFTA, Barry!

The life experiences which Dublin actor Barry Keoghan has gone through would, quite literally, floor most of us!

Raised in Dublin’s inner-city Summerhill, a stone’s throw from where I was born in ‘the cottages’ off Dorset Street, Barry’s BAFTA win (for his role in The Banshees of Inisherin) was very much deserved. I am absolutely thrilled for him!

I watched the movie and, while I thought it was entertaining and, dare I say, twee, I was blown away by talented Barry’s wonderful portrayal of Dominic Kearney, the troubled, yet charming and hapless young lad, and son of evil local guard Peadar in The Banshees of Inisherin.

This 30-year-old actor’s story is definitely one of triumph over adversity. Admitting to once being forced to sneak into the cinema to see a movie with pals, it’s only right that this inspirational young man is now not just starring in them, he’s receiving awards for his persistence and his craft.

He’s a credit to the grandmother and aunt who raised him. I’m sure his poor mammy, whose heroin addiction and subsequent death which resulted in Barry and his brother Eric going through 13 foster homes, is looking down on her baby boy with love and pride.