Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday, 1 March 2013

21st-century parenting - there's an app for that

It's a familiar story - a child runs up a massive i-tunes bill playing games on a parent's computer (see JuliaM  and Bucko for more) - but this particular report provides an interesting subtext on today's methods of child-rearing.

According to his mother, five-year-old Danny 'kept pestering' to borrow his parents' iPad to play games while they entertained friends so they 'eventually agreed'.
Danny said, "I said to dad can you put the passcode for the game he said no and then I said it was free so he said yes."*
So much for consistency; though I'm not a believer, I have long felt that one of the fundamental rules of parenting is admirably phrased (if in a rather different context) in Matthew 5:37 - But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

Or, more relevantly, opens the door to eternal pestering in the realistic hope of eventual capitulation - as can be seen in any high street on a Saturday morning. However, it was not the father's inconsistency that initially caught my eye:
Mrs Kitchen said: "I realised what happened and told Danny he'd better get ready for bed and run and hide before daddy got home."
Now ask yourself, how is a five-year-old supposed to interpret such an instruction? Since Mrs Kitchen herself recounted this, one assumes that there is no suggestion of a genuine threat to the child, which leaves a mother abdicating all responsibility for the matter and telling her son to to run away and hide from his father rather than admit what he had done - fine advice indeed!

And Mrs Kitchen isn't exactly a model of consistency herself; having needlessly frightened her son into what appears to be a state of abject panic:
"He started to run and through his tears he turned back and said 'But where can I hide?' Bless him - that stopped me being angry but of course it's a lot of money."
So the boy has now learned a potentially useful lesson for the future; his mother will stop being angry with him if he cries enough. But surely her anger - and that of her husband, who was 'livid' until the boy looked suitably penitent - should never have been directed at the child in the first place.

Apple have made it abundantly clear in the past that cases of this kind are the result of parents handing an iPad game over to a child without putting the optional built-in controls in place. How can a child barely old enough to read simple storybooks be expected to understand and take responsibility for the real-life cost of accessories offered in the game he was playing? The game, incidentally, is age-rated 9+, which rather undermines the mother's demand that 'more should be done to limit stuff like this from happening'.

And this brings us to the third parenting issue; the couple relied on the assurances of a five-year-old that the game was free when making the decision to hand over to him what was effectively a blank cheque. It's symptomatic of the abdication of authority on the part of parents and responsible adults that ultimately leads to schools being run by 'Head Learners' or the twelve-year-old who contradicts his teacher, refusing to believe there is such a word as 'whom' because he has never heard of it.

Listen carefully, next time you are out and about in the vicinity of families with small children, and sooner or later, along with the inevitable "Oh, alright!" as pestering pays off once more, you are likely to hear a parent exclaim "Silly Mummy!" or "Stupid Daddy!", an oft-repeated voluntary abdication of parental authority from the earliest age and an open invitation for the child to treat its parents - and by extension, all adults - with a lack of respect.

And in many cases, sad to say, it turns out to be all too true.

* sic: you'd think the Telegraph would employ journalists who can punctuate.

Update: most reports now feature video footage of interviews with Danny, implying clear parental approval, which rather begs the question of how the papers got the story in the first place and whether it's really in the child's best interests to be thus paraded before the world's media. 

Could it be connected with the fact that the parents run a daycare and after-school childminding and entertainment business from their home? They do say there's no such thing as bad publicity..


  1. "fine advice indeed!"

    I agree. The father is entirely responsible, not a five-year old child. His tears should embarrass both parents.

  2. I would not be surprised to learn that part of the problem was that the child was driving the family car at the time he was playing on the Ipad.

  3. AKH, Mr Kitchen doesn't seem to see it that way:

    "I was livid - not amused at all. But Danny was very sorry so I couldn't stay mad at him for long."

    Demetrius, sooner or later, it's bound to happen...

  4. "....which rather begs the question of how the papers got the story in the first place and whether it's really in the child's best interests to be thus paraded before the world's media. "

    Well, if you're trying to blackmail a company into forgoing the money you owe them, it can help...

  5. Good point, Julia - though the video footage seems to have been added after Apple agreed to refund the charges.