Can a tablet improve a family's life?
For the past week in our house, ever since a fat man in a red suit paid us a visit, there have been episodes of unnerving silence.
Although the respite from protracted negotiations over whether it will be jogging bottoms or tights and a skirt for the visit of granny is always welcome, I am more than a tad concerned by the reduced amount of lip I have received since December 25.
Of course the reason for this outbreak of (relative) peace and harmony isn’t that our seven-year-old has had an epiphany and decided that, after all, daddy is the font of all knowledge and that carrots are always preferable to chicken nuggets, but rather she is the proud owner of a brand new tablet. It was at the top of her list, along with a baby sister and a puppy, which meant that she was always going to get her very own personal computer.
At first it seemed like a no-brainer: I would finally get my phone back and would avoid the risk of bonnet-wearing fox stickers appearing on my Facebook timeline ever again but I am now dogged by a nagging guilt that I have given in earlier than I should have.
Our little girl has a lifetime of personal devices, apps and updating of profiles ahead of her so why succumb now, while she still loves playing with Lego and toy mice? Like millions of other parents we fell foul of pester power, combined with the belief that her being online could be a force for good.
Much of her homework requires us to log on to our laptop so having her own device seems like something of a natural step, particularly while her willingness to learn is uninhibited by the cynicism which will be inherent once adolescence arrives.
So why the angst? Like the vast majority of impressionable minds, she is easily sucked into another dimension, whether it be through a handheld screen or the television.
I am as guilty as the next parent of taking advantage of the peace and quiet which a digital babysitter affords but there has to be limits and standards. My wife and I had vowed not to pacify either of our children - our toddler has made it his life’s work to commandeer our phones at every opportunity - by plonking them in front of a screen. Of course we do break that rule more than we should but we have banned devices at the dinner table, which also includes our all-too-rare forays into the world of restaurant dining.
The biggest compliment we have been paid as parents is how polite and articulate our eldest child is, a fact which also regularly proves to be a drawback whenever we get drawn into negotiations over bedtime. Her vocabulary is wide not just because she is a lover of reading but because conversations are regularly held on the drive to school or at mealtimes.
We don’t intend to lose that but are aware of the pressure that technology has put upon family life. The risk that we could breed a generation of dead-eyed zombies is very real. We can listen to as many experts as we want, and there are many out there, but the buck stops with us.
That parenting isn’t easy is the reason why getting it right from time to time is so rewarding - it seems a shame to cheat at it with the help of a small screen.