My problem with anonymous parent-shaming

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt hosts Kinderling Conversation every weekday at 12pm.

You know that when an article starts with the headline “to the mum in the pub/ park/ playground” that you’re in for a whole load of parental judgment.

For example the recent article “To the Mum at the pub whose daughters were watching their iPads” on Kidspot.

If you haven’t read it, it’s basically one mum asking another (anonymous) one to think about how her screen use affects the families around her.

I have numerous problems with this style of article. It makes parents who have used an iPad feel like crap, it’s making a judgment on how they parent, and lastly it makes a really interesting and important public issue, personal.

Show me a parent who hasn’t used a device to calm or distract their children at some point, and I’ll give them a medal. Because that’s all it’s worth. Good on you and your amazing parenting abilities - now leave me alone to deal with my own screaming mini-monster.

Why oh why do we feel it’s any of our business to tell another parent they’re doing the wrong thing? Unless you see a child being abused or neglected then it’s none of your business (and I’m sorry folks, but seeing a kid watching an iPad at dinner is not neglect).

Their parenting style might make things more challenging for you, but then your parenting style might make life hard for them. You may not believe in iPads at the dinner table, but you may also be okay with your child having soft drink. That may be a cardinal sin to another parent whose kids want what yours have. No one lives in a bubble. Deal with it.

For once I’d like to see an article supporting another parent, telling them they’re doing a great job.

And finally, the issue about how we use technology in our families is incredibly important. Most of us who are parents today didn’t grow up with iPads or iPhones. This is new territory for us, and the research is only now coming out to help guide our way. Shaming a parent for doing the ‘wrong thing’ is ignoring the real question: how do we all feel about technology in our families, and what are the social boundaries?

Listen to Dr Joanne Orlando on Kinderling Conversation:

Dr Joanne Orlando is a researcher in technology and children at the University of Western Sydney. She says the problem with consistent use of devices means that children are missing out on opportunities to learn social skills, like interacting at the table, or dealing with boredom.

But, as a mother of three, she also understands that sometimes we all need a break; “I know there are times when you just need quiet, or you just need to concentrate to finish something off. That’s part of family life, but the issue is when it’s a parent’s go-to strategy as a way of managing a child’s behaviour or as a way of keeping their child quiet.”

Dr Orlando believes in the positive power of technology to help our children learn and grow. It’s how we use it that counts. She encourages parents to share screen time with their kids, to give them time limits and to make screen time an inclusive, family activity.

When it comes to the way we use technology in society, I don’t think anyone’s really tackled that one effectively. Just think about how many people you have to dodge on the sidewalk because they’re watching their iPhones instead of where they’re going, or when friends text while you’re having a conversation or how no one looks at each other on the train anymore because we’re all gazing into our devices.

So let’s start a conversation about the important issue about technology in our families, how we use it as a society, and leave individual parents alone.