Three-quarters of all British parents with teenage children think they are “too attached” to their devices, and use the confiscation of iPhones and iPads as forms of discipline, according to new research. The survey was taken among the parents of children aged 14 or younger – well, all I can say is, try imposing discipline on the indignant, self-justifying ball of histrionics that is the 17-year-old kid sitting his or her A-levels in May/June.
I’m not, I need hardly say, talking about my own winsome and studious child, who swots in the school library for hours after lessons before spending her evenings reading Shakespeare or Jung, taking occasional “fun” breaks to play Schoenberg on the family upright. But a straw poll of neighbours reveals that we are now in a hellish bind: we’ve pampered our children too much this century, and we’re now too afraid of them to be able to discipline them at all.
The most important exams of their lives are looming, two months off. We’d like them to spend evenings at home, revising and thinking about the perfect answer on the First World War/ Birthday Letters/ Artesian Wells/ Differential Calculus. To encourage them, we’ve bought them a smartphone, an iPad and a stack of fancy apps, and waved over their heads the problematic inducement of tickets to Beyoncé or Justin Beiber.
Too late do we find their attention is so distracted by the techno-screens and expensive tickets that they can scarcely concentrate at all. Many 17-year-old schoolkids of my acquaintance cannot follow a train of thought in a novel, or an argument in an essay. They are ill-equipped to read books more than 100 pages long without giving up. They’re used to having their ratiocinative processes interrupted every 30 seconds by bleeping noises. But try to take away the lifeline that is their iPhone and hell will follow, with tears and slammed doors. It doesn’t get the coursework essay on Darwin or Dostoevsky finished, that’s for sure.
Some of us have pampered the children by treating them, prematurely, as sophisticates. I know a 17-year-old girl who is miffed if her father, having laughingly indulged her with alcohol at weekends, denies her a gin and tonic on school nights. I know a mother whose son was revising so unenthusiastically that she threatened to sell his Beiber ticket last week, three days before the O2 concert. The boy was so outraged, he locked himself in his room and played “Baby” over and over for hours, at soul-destroying volume.
We know the exams will be over soon, and the children will revert to being continent and charming adolescents, instead of fuming, semi-literate, technology-suckling delinquents. Right now, though, many parents are going through hell. And you know what? As the judge in the Huhne-Pryce case almost said, it’s all our own stupid fault.
At last the bubble bursts
Mixed news in the Office for National Statistics’ new list of what we spend our money on. Along with the (slightly surreal) popularity of white rum, spreadable butter and kitchen units, we’re buying lots of e-books – another nail in the bookshop coffin. But buck up – we’ve stopped ordering champagne in restaurants and bars. We’ve learned some sense. We’re over our juvenile, 20th-century craving for bottles of overpriced carbonated Chardonnay, popping corks and flatulence-inducing bubbles. Cheers!