Should we let children be screen and not heard?

15th July 2016 at 00:00

Thud…Thud…Thud…It’s hard to ignore an African elephant slamming into a table top. Dillon liberated it from our wild-animal display area when I refused to let him have a tablet computer. Now he’s using it in an attempt to make me change my mind. Apparently, keeping him in at playtime while denying him access to basic technological resources is in contravention of his human rights.

Since Dillon came off Ritalin, tablet computers have been used as a weapon in the ongoing war against his inappropriate behaviour. Dangling the carrot of 10 minutes’ tablet time at the end of a lesson encourages him to make the right choices. These include not carrying out random acts of violence in the classroom. Unfortunately, he still carries them out at during the break. “I was only playing Mortal Kombat,” he snarls.

Thud…Thud…Thud…I explain that play-fighting is not allowed anywhere in school. This is especially important when your opponent objects to being punched, kicked and thrown. “If you want to play ‘Kombat’ games, use an imaginary friend and play them by yourself.”

For a moment, the elephant relents and Dillon stares at me like I’m several pixels short of a recognisable image. “How am I supposed to play by myself if you won’t let me have a tablet?” he sneers.

Thud…Thud…Thud…I want to tell him that the best graphics are in his head, but the onslaught of beast on MDF has resumed. After a while, its hypnotic rhythm evokes memories of long-forgotten summers playing alone on the drive of our council house. After the FA Cup final, I became Denis Law, blasting home the winning goal. During the Ashes series, I morphed into Fred Trueman and ripped the heart out of the Australian batting line-up. The second Wimbledon ended, I was Rod Laver, making lesser opponents scamper around Centre Court.

My only partner in all of the above imaginative play was our garage door. When friends were not allowed to play out, or were having their tea, or had been dragged off to visit grandparents, our garage door became my companion of choice. And, if truth be told, I liked him better than some of my real ones. He never complained about being in goal, getting bowled out or losing in straight sets. Neither did he pick up my ball and go home in a huff.

Thud…Thud…Thud…Suddenly the shadow of my mum arrives like a summer storm and turns sunny memories to dark ones. She’s at her wits’ end. She can’t take it any more. The thud, thud, thudding has to stop! In a flash she’s removed my (football, cricket and tennis) balls and gone back indoors, numbing her mind with Mother’s Little Helpers to stop her going completely out of it.

Thud…Thud…Thud…The memory fades, but the elephant’s relentless assault on Dillon’s table continues, and I’m forced to steel myself. It’s hard not to give in when you only want to get through the day. But sometimes tablets aren’t the answer.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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