Dear Dave

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Sex, cake and direction of travel

Dear Dave,

I was thinking the other day that it must be time to have another rant about a survey to do with parenting. I didn't have a particular survey in mind but, you know, it's been a while. I considered hunting around for one, then I decided not to bother. Poorly reported pieces of research are like health scares - there's bound to be one before long.

Sure enough, three have been brought to my attention in the last week or so. At least one of them is also a health scare. Yeh!

I had to laugh when I saw a tagline asking 'Is there too much sex in videogames?' because sex barely features in games at all. On investigation, I found the related article cites a recent YouGov survey as finding 74% of parents are worried about sexual content in games. It then goes on to list the ten most sexually explicit games ever in an effort to show that, really, there's not much to worry about. Sadly, that's all very well, but the survey actually found that 74% of parents are concerned about the content in general of some videogames. To be honest, this is only right and proper - there are plenty of games out there that children shouldn't have access to. Parents ought to be keeping an eye on what they're kids are playing. Even the game companies are quick to encourage this, since parents exerting more control over their childrens' habits is really the only way to stop the kids encountering inappropriate material. The big news here is, in fact, that 26% of parents don't know or don't care about the content of any videogames. Let's just hope their kids don't play them...

Meanwhile, in England, the government is running a health campaign trying to persuade parents that getting their kids to do some exercise and eat healthier food is good for them and will help them live longer. Allegedly, feeding children cake the whole time simply isn't good parenting:

Obvious? Er, yeah. Unfortunately, the games industry hasn't been too pleased with some of the adverts:

There have been loud rumblings that it's unfair to single out computer games, since there's no definitive evidence linking them with obesity and surely everything from books to cars are blame. What about the exercise people get from playing the Wii? How dare the government denigrate such an important and creative industry!? Sony should sue!

Unfortunately, this makes games industry spokespeople sound like tobacco execs from the 1970s. Clearly, sitting around playing computer games every day while eating cakes isn't going to do wonders for anyone's health. Better to admit it and move on. Computer games aren't being singled out as an easy target, they're simply top of the list of sedentary pastimes favoured by kids. The adverts aren't claiming computer games are evil, they're encouraging parents to exert more control over their kids' habits to make sure they get some exercise. This is exactly the same kind of control the games industry is constantly trying to encourage in an effort to shift onto parents the responsibility for controlling access to violent games. Videogames already have age restrictions and scary warnings about taking regular breaks in order to avoid photosensitive seizures. Including some suggestions to go and play outside every so often to avoid turning into a tub of lard wouldn't be hard.

Of course, it should be noted that parents can get too concerned about controlling what experiences their children encounter. I stumbled across the whole forwards/backwards buggy thing again this week as well. The University of Dundee did some research into whether it makes a difference which way toddlers face while riding around. Apparently, those facing the world tend to have a slightly higher heart rate, while those facing their parent get talked to more, laugh more, cry more and are more likely to fall asleep. Somewhere along the line these results got interpreted by the papers to show that forward-facing buggies produce stressed kids with poor communication skills. This certainly isn't a justified conclusion, however. Kids facing out-the-way see lots of stuff to get excited about and those facing in-the-way get more of a chat. Who knows which is 'better' in the long-run?

Although I frequently had my kids in our forward-facing buggy for a couple of hours a day when they were small, there were only three normal scenarios:

  • They were asleep, so chatting wouldn't have been hugely worthwhile.
  • I was trying to get them to sleep, so I was avoiding chatting to them.
  • I was desperately trying to keep them awake, so I was chatting to them for all I was worth or getting them to do the actions to a rousing chorus of If you're happy and you know it as we manoeuvred round Tesco.
With a rear-facing buggy I wouldn't have had to shout and I might have frightened fewer little old ladies at the shops with my singing but that would have been the only major difference. It's probably safe to say that any child with a parent concerned enough for their well-being to be worried about the effects of buggy-facing, isn't going to be lacking in attention or stimulation, whichever option is eventually picked. If I ever have to buy another buggy, it will be easily reclinable and foldable, and come with high enough handles, a wipe-clean cover and good storage space underneath. Only after dealing with these issues will I think about whether I want the vomit, coughs and sneezes to travel towards or away from me...

Yours in a woman's world,


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