When it comes to parenting, as in most things, Noel and I are chalk and cheese. This is becoming more obvious than ever now we are the parents of a teenager. He's the one who cracks the whip, where as I'm considerably more laid back. That's probably an understatement. If it wasn't for Noel we would live in total chaos, be late for everything and probably never eat any vegetables. I admit, before now the kids and I have had a tendency to roll our eyes and mouth 'old fart' to one another when he starts harping on. 'When I was a boy the only time I got given fizzy drink was when I scored a try in rugby!' 'When I was your age I didn't spend a cent on skateboarding - I MADE my own skateboard out using an old beer crate and the wheels off my Tonka truck!' And so on, and so on...
The thing is, as I try to gently remind him, it's been 25 years since we were Liam's age. Times have changed. The reason that we didn't spend every waking hour watching TV or playing video games was because they didn't exist. We had to find other stuff to do. I agree wholeheartedly that times haven't changed for the better but I'm pretty philosophical that there's not a heck of a lot we can do about it, so we just have to go with the flow. As I said before, if the Consuming Kids documentary had been made 10 years ago I would never have let my kids watch TV. It's like smoking really. It's only now, after a generation has been ruined by it that we can say to our kids 'Yep, that was a really bad idea! But we didn't know back then'.
Somehow over the years we have ended up with all manner of video games, from Playstation to Nintendo. Our kids have also ended up with cellphones. I'm not saying I like it but I don't think it's the end of the world. They spend just as much time outside being active than they do occupying themselves with electronics. Compared to a lot of other kids I know I think they have a pretty good balance and if the two of them having phones gives me greater peace of mind as a parent now they're old enough to go out and about without us, then that's a good thing. Noel on the other hand hates anything with a screen (except the fish finder on his boat!) But most of all, he hates a more recent phenomenon called Facebook. I really didn't understand what his problem was at first, I just thought 'here we go again!' Personally I thought it was brilliant. Now all my old friends from the other side of the world could track me down and vice versa, woohoo! Before long I was happily adding friends I hadn't seen or heard from in over 20 years. It didn't matter that we never got around to actually writing anything properly, at least we knew how to get in touch with each other if we wanted!
Things pootled along for a while and I kept on collecting and adding more friends. As far as I was concerned it was the perfect way to keep in touch in today's busy society. It took no real effort, all you had to do was say a few words and everyone was in the loop! Then the games started and all of a sudden Facebook took on a whole new dimension. The people joining up were getting younger and younger. They weren't supposed to be but what the heck, anyone can put in a fake birthday. My kids joined and added me as their friend. I didn't mind - at least I could keep an eye on their online environment, unlike other similar websites. That was the joy of Facebook after all, everyone can see what everybody else is doing or saying! The thing was, the more time I spent on the site, the less I liked what I saw.
I soon realised that although I was keeping an eye on my own kids, most of the other parents out there weren't. Kids forget to behave on Facebook. They're so busy trying to act cool and impress their friends that they forget they've added Auntie Flo or their parents' friends - or me. Sixteen of my Facebook friends are school children. Never mind that two of them have never spoken to me and pass me in the street! It's all about collecting 'friends', every teenager wants to have the most. At first I thought it was nice they thought I was 'cool' enough to be their friend but unfortunately most of them have shown me a different side to them. Kids I have known and liked for years use language on Facebook you wouldn't believe - words they would never dream of using in front of me or other adults in person, but they use no consideration online. On Facebook you can find thousands of different quizzes so 10 year olds can predict how and when they are going to die or broadcast to their friends and relations how big their penises are. All they have to do is answer a series of easy questions. What fun!
It's not just kids though. Facebook is robbing grown men and women of hours of their lives too. I'm always amazed at how much time my own relatives spend on it. My aunts and cousins can often be found playing games and posting messages at two or three o'clock in the morning, night after night. At first I thought it was cute that they were getting all tech-savvy, but now I think it's sad. What are their poor husbands doing, sitting twiddling their thumbs each night while their wives are tapping away on their keyboards? Instead of sitting and talking to each other of an evening, they're now kept apart after years of comfortable companionship by 'virtual others'. Saddest of all are the times I've seen my cousin posting on Facebook in the middle of the night, frantic as to the whereabouts of her 13 year old daughter, who hasn't come home. Perhaps if she and her husband spent time together as a family, instead of sitting on Facebook on their individual computers every evening, they might know where she is. Heck, the girl might have something to actually stay home for! Unfortunately they choose to communicate with people through a computer screen, rather than with their own kids. Apologies if it sounds harsh, but I've seen it.
Noel goes as far as to say that Facebook is actually damaging the economy. I laughed when he told me that - but a few months down the track I think he's right. People just aren't getting things done any more; they're too busy feeding fake fish in fake fish tanks, harvesting fake crops on fake farms and playing Mafia Wars to get round to doing their work or even doing something as simple as putting the washing out. I know this for a fact because one day the rest of the family were out. My plan was to clean the house. I ended up spending the entire three hours playing Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook. Yes, I am very embarrassed about it and no, I haven't played it, or any other game since!
The last straw was finding Liam sitting on Facebook cleaning out fake kitten poo from his 'Happy Pets' game on a gloriously hot day when we would normally have gone for a swim or played cricket. I told him in no uncertain terms that life is too short to waste it doing stuff like that and it has now been effectively banned in our house. I'm keeping my account open in case any of my old friends want to track me down one day and correspond properly but there'll be no more games or posting for me. I apologise to any diehard Facebook fans for any offence I've caused but from now on, I'll be writing proper letters, the old fashioned way. I appreciate that for people who are truly lonely something like Facebook is a lifeline, a welcome link to other people but in my experience for those with families, all it does is keep them apart. No more wasted hours for us!