Open Thinkering


Tag: parenting

Some thoughts on the Department for Education’s consultation on ‘Parental Internet Controls’.

The Department for Education's consultation on 'Parental Internet Controls'

If you’re in England and a parent, guardian and/or educator you should be responding to the Department for Education’s consultation on Parental Internet Controls.

The assumptions behind it are quite staggering.

It would appear that the government believes that the best way of ‘protecting’ young people is to shield them from ever accessing ‘inappropriate’ material online.

This is wrong for several reasons:

  1. Despite your best efforts, all young people will at some point come across inappropriate things online
  2. Any tool you use to block inappropriate sites will be a fairly blunt instrument leading to false positives
  3. Blocking tools tend to lead to a false sense of security by parents, guardians and educators
  4. Who decides what’s ‘inappropriate’?

The best filter resides in the head, not in a router or office of an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

I don’t want my internet connection to be filtered in ‘the best interests of my children’. I don’t want to be subject to censorship.

I’ve responded to the consultation. I’ve pointed out that their questions are sometimes unfairly worded. For example, I want to respond for one particular question that I don’t think ‘automatic’ parental controls should be in place in any households.

It’s about education, not censorship. Make sure you respond to the consultation, please!

3 rules for our five year-old (that work!)

Baby Taz

Last week I was cooped up indoors with my son.

Ben is an energetic five year-old on Easter school holidays whilst I was ill and off work. It rained most of the week meaning that there were fewer opportunities for him to get out of the house with my wife and Grace (our one year-old daughter). The temptation to let him just watch films and play on the iPad was quite high, to say the least.

Thankfully, we’ve already laid down some ground rules for him that help manage his behaviour.

1. Food

Young children can be inordinately grumpy if they’ve got low blood sugar. Actually, I’m inordinately grumpy if I have low blood sugar.

The first job for my son every morning is to eat some fruit. This is usually a banana. Given that he usually rises at around 6am, it stops him being super-grumpy before his breakfast at 7.30am.

I don’t care what anyone says about children and sugar: too much is bad for both their teeth and their mood. Ben gets that wild look in his eyes when he’s had too much. Fruit, however, contains fructose which seems to be a useful compromise.

2. Screen time

I have to admit, the notion of limiting children to a certain amount of ‘screen time’ seemed slightly ridiculous before we had Ben. But, oh my, you have no idea how more than 15-20 minutes on the iPad (or watching TV) has on his behaviour.

The rule in our house is that he’s not allowed on the iPad until after lunch. This means that at weekends and during school holidays he usually wants lunch at 9:30am!

Whilst Ben has got some games that are purely for entertainment (like Smash Cops which he got as a birthday present, or Gravity Guy and Sonic Racing), most of what he plays has a puzzle element.

His favourites?

He has periods where he’ll just focus on one game to the exclusion of the rest. And that’s fine (for 15 minutes at a time…)

3. Entertainment

Partly from necessity, partly from principle, we ask Ben to go away and play by himself every day.

We live in an age of mass entertainment when it would be easy to find him something for him to passively consume. When I was young I read books and played with cars because there was nothing more exciting to do. Now there’s a million TV channels, apps and digital distractions fighting for our attention.

Clay Shirky puts the problem well:

I remember, as a child, being bored. I grew up in a particularly boring place and so I was bored pretty frequently. But when the Internet came along it was like, “That’s it for being bored! Thank God! You’re awake at four in the morning? So are thousands of other people!”

It was only later that I realized the value of being bored was actually pretty high. Being bored is a kind of diagnostic for the gap between what you might be interested in and your current environment. But now it is an act of significant discipline to say, “I’m going to stare out the window. I’m going to schedule some time to stare out the window.” The endless gratification offered up by our devices means that the experience of reading in particular now becomes something we have to choose to do.

In a way, therefore, by insisting on analogue play (including reading and writing) we’re teaching mindfulness. It also reinforces the role of my wife and I as parents as opposed to mere babysitters/entertainers.

Are you a parent? What rules do you have in YOUR house? Do they work?

PS You’ll love Leo Babauta’s The Way of the Peaceful Parent

30 things I’ve learned in 30 years.

I turned 30 last month. Not only that, but I’m now a father to two children meaning that, at some point, I’ll need to pass on what some might call ‘wisdom’. Here’s 30 things I’ll be telling them based on my experience:

  1. Don’t be the first person to leave a gathering. Don’t be the last.
  2. Try not to burn your bridges, you never know when you might need to return to them. But if you do decide it’s necessary, make it spectacular with proper fireworks.
  3. In the long run, people will always spot substance over style.
  4. Alternate alcoholic drinks and soft drinks for an enjoyable night and productive morning after. Do the same when drinking coffee to avoid dehydration.
  5. Find what you like, including brands. Narrowing down your options in any given situation saves time and frustration.
  6. Ask. People can only say no, and are usually polite about it.
  7. Focus on routines and rituals. Nail these and you’re sorted.
  8. Women really do like all of that romantic stuff.
  9. Practice eloquence. People like listening to those who can put difficult concepts in layman’s terms.
  10. At the end of it all, the only person who stops you doing something is yourself. Confidence is a preference.
  11. Most people care less than you think about almost everything that you deem important. Avoid echo chambers.
  12. Don’t let your school years define you.
  13. Nobody knows what goes on inside your head until you say it or write it down.
  14. 90% of ‘success’ (as other people define it) is being in the right place at the right time, the other 10% is extremely hard work.
  15. Just as your tastebuds are renewed every 7 years, so you are not the same person throughout your lifetime. Don’t be beholden to people who would tell you otherwise. Be ruthless in separating friends from acquaintances.
  16. Exercise more than you think you need to. When you’re young you think your body will be in peak condition forever. It won’t be.
  17. Make your first experience or attempt at something the best it can be. It will usually affect how you conceptualise that thing or person from then on.
  18. Don’t believe what someone tells you because of their personality or good looks.
  19. Never trust people who smoke or gamble regularly.
  20. Endeavour to be the least knowledgeable person in the room at any given time.
  21. Learn another language (including music). It’s not only a means of expression but a different way of thinking.
  22. Find somewhere that is completely quiet and you can be undisturbed. Visit it often.
  23. Defer to authority, but only if it doesn’t mean compromising your principles.
  24. Develop a firm handshake and look people in the eye when you meet them.
  25. Seek out liminal spaces. Although sometimes times of turmoil (moving jobs, waiting for confirmation of results, etc.) they encourage both reflection and future planning.
  26. Try and explain complex things to very old and/or very young people as often as you can. It’s a valuable process for both parties.
  27. Money is important but only in the way that it flows (both in society, and at family/individual level).
  28. You are a collection of interactions and experiences. Ensure that the collection is the best it can be.
  29. Let other people boast about you and big you up (but don’t believe everything you see/read/hear)
  30. Read inspirational things often, especially quotations and proverbs. Dwell upon them.

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