An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

Could Television be Thwarting our Parenting Efforts by Rabia Saida Spiker

In Education, parenting on January 28, 2012 at 11:46 pm

When I was invited to contribute to this blog I felt a certain reluctance, because, frankly, I didn’t feel I was doing a particularly good job of spiritually parenting my own children. Really I can only describe myself as a slightly distracted parent, which I think in many ways has become the norm, and has therefore become socially acceptable and even expected. More than that- I wasn’t even sure what spiritual parenting looked like- I tried to give my children a taste of the spiritual by having them take part in dhikr and the prayer and having discussions with them about God and the universe- other than that I felt as long as I provided a safe environment, food, clothing and love, I was doing alright. I sometimes felt feelings of the inadequacy of my parenting and comforted myself that this was “good enough” parenting. After all, the last thing you need getting in the way of your parenting are feelings of your own ineptitude for the job. Frankly the exigencies of parenting had come as a surprise to me. My boys can be a real handful and sometimes their behaviour really leaves much to be desired- but I didn’t really impute this to bad parenting on my part- after all, I was doing everything that could be expected of me, including trawling through parenting manuals and trying to give my children clear boundaries, self motivation etc. etc. etc. What more could I do? There are certainly days when being a “good enough” parent is all I can manage, but is being a “good enough” parent good enough on those days I actually feel capable of being a “good” parent without attaching any qualifiers?

This blog has helped me to reassess my parenting, and ask myself if I am really doing enough for my children. I like the focus on being present with your children and think this is a particularly important thing to focus on in the world we live in today, which is so full of distractions, from hectic work schedules to on-tap television to ever more multifunctional smart phones. In this age of distraction it is only too easy to become a distracted parent. With the advent of smart-phones we carry our distraction around in our pockets. We never have to be truly present where we are, or even alone with our own thoughts. There is nothing that so much says “I would rather not be here” than taking out your smartphone!

Recently I met a family whose children go to a Steiner school. Both of the parents are also Steiner teachers. While I am not sure I am entirely comfortable with all Steiner philosophy, I do like the fact that they ask parents not to allow their children to watch television. The time children usually spend watching television, they instead spend doing something with their family, and as none of the children at the school watch television, there is no peer pressure to do so.

There are good things about television. It gives parents a much needed break from the hullabaloo of child-rearing in an age when we are often very alone in this endeavour- there are no aunts or uncles to pass our babies to while we get on with something, or when we just really need a break, no cousins next door to play with our children, no village to help raise our child. Television is entertaining to our children, offers light relief and relaxation, teaches our children about things they would not otherwise experience, and in a society that relies so heavily on it, it is almost a requisite for normal socialisation. You don’t want your children feeling socially inept because they’ve never watched an episode of octonauts and all their classmates have! A lot of children’s television seems innocent enough and could arguably even inculcate desirable values and character traits in our children.

But how much of the day do our children spend living in Waybaloo with strangely coloured fluffy floating creatures with squeaky voices and huge eyes? How much time do they spend in Tinga Tinga land where all the animals are multicoloured and patterned and tell weird stories about how things came to be as they are? How much of our children’s dream time and imagination is dedicated to the creatures and imaginary worlds we present them with daily? Is this what we want their formative memories and perceptions of the world to be woven from? Because these outrageous colours and sounds, this non-stop movement and dance is far more compelling than the colours and rhythms of real life- there’s really no competition when it comes to which of the two grabs and holds the attention. It’s no wonder they have trouble concentrating on what we ask of them and understanding why in the real world, if in their minds they’re dancing with the overgrown triangles and squares in Mr Maker, or zooming round a fantastical race course in a stream-lined pod with a fluffy hyperactive ball of fur for a side-kick. And it’s no wonder that teaching has become a difficult profession when this is what teacher’s have to compete with.

After reading some of the blog posts here I decided to try limiting screen time for my children. I decided that during the week they could only watch documentaries, and dutifully sat down with them and watched some documentaries on amazing animals from youTube with them. Somehow watching with your child seems a step up from allowing them to watch things on their own, as it becomes a shared experience and something you can discuss. They enjoyed the documentaries… and I felt a real change in their behaviour and a calmness in the house without the incessant hysteria of Cbeebies penetrating everything. They seem to be quite happy with my ‘documentaries during the week’ rule, and I decided to let them choose something else they want to see on the week-end. They are choosing to play more now, rather than watch TV, and I feel all of us are becoming more present with each other.

The last thing I want is to sound judgemental about using the box as a babysitter, but i wonder if we could actually be missing out on a critical part of parenting when we use it. Cutting out television can be incredibly hard- I tried once when my children were 3 and 5 and failed miserably. I felt I so needed that hour or two of quiet while they were watching that it was actually driving me a bit crazy just not having that time. I wish I’d persisted and found some creative way of finding these moments of quiet and space without resorting to the television. Because I actually wonder if all those episodes of Zigby and Everything’s Rosie may come back to haunt you, when you gaze into your child’s eyes and find them imprinted there. I’m not at all convinced that television is as harmless as we tell ourselves it is. In fact I wonder if we may be robbing our children of something essential, and robbing ourselves of a deeper relationship with our children in our use of it. Parenting is a hard job- the last thing we need is to add feelings of being an inadequate parent to the equation- but this is certainly a feeling I’ve experienced- and I wonder if perhaps, ironically, television steals the fullness of connection with our children from us that we need to feel a sense of wellbeing and fulfillment as a parent. When our children need entertainment, should it be us that rise to the creative challenge and find something to engage them, whether it be shoe-lace tying or cooking or painting?  It is only now that my children are 7 and 5 that I feel I have the energy and will to wean them and myself somewhat from our screen habits. And I still feel the impulse to turn on the television when my boys are being too wild. But how much distracted parenting should we forgive ourselves and how much will we have to pay for it in later years?

  1. Thank you for this post. This blog seems to have grown organically, as you know, from a few emails between friends. I realised on some level parenting is a continuous learning process (for me) and networking with other parents, exchanging experiences would help with that process. Later I realised even just reflecting on day to day issues, through blogging about them, helps digest those experiences. My parents carry a very different model of parenting then the ones I’m exploring. Being first generation British Asian, I think that might partly be due to culture but also due to the exponential times we live in where we are shifting from models of parenting and education rooted in the industrial age to ones of the information age.

    Being a teacher I do see first hand how education is going through a change all over the world and how unpredictable the future is even for the experts. Yet we’re supposed to prepare our children for it. My experience of institutionalized education, private and public, made me ask questions such as ‘what would happen to Picasso if he came here as a child and was ordered to wear school uniform or if Tagore went through formal schooling and exams? I wonder why a brilliant award winning teacher like John Tayor Gatto would quit teaching, or why an educationalist like Alfie Kohn speaks against homework or Sir Ken Robinson questions if schools kill creativity? Have I thought about these issues or am i going to live life on autopilot? It also disturbs me to see many crimes being committed by youth nowadays with the number of stabbing in London on a rise.

    Parenting is one of the most difficult jobs in the world yet also one of the most rewarding ones too. My five year old daughter would often smile at something I did or say ‘Well done papa!” and it makes my day! Today we walked into a cafe and she started dancing to the jazz music – totally uninhibited like a real dervish. I was shown how constrained I was in that moment.

    I found many books on parenting and education but few which would put my experience of spirituality within the context of parenting and address some of the issues which we face today. I realised the spiritual path is not outside of providing ‘a safe environment, food, clothing and love’ but deeply embedded in it. Being rooted in Islamic spirituality, I also felt, there wasn’t as far as I know (please correct me) a holistic education system, similar to Montessori or Waldorf Steiner, which gives a spiritual vision based on the Qur’anic view of the human being and his/her cognitive faculties which Jeremy has beautifully put together. With such a rich history and legacy of art, science and spirituality – why not?

    Not being a scholar or a gifted parent, I thought about why I’m writing about these issues? The one thing I do have are questions based on reflections of day to day experiences and a willingness to experiment. May be more importantly, I have the support and blessings of my spiritual teachers.

  2. ps. As for television and computers I feel balance is key. I’m not quite convinced they should be totally removed – especially when there’s little outdoor activities available for my children to do. Hopefully, with this blog, I would like to explore more indoor activities for them to do.

    • I’m don’t have any answers about television either, and think I am only able to contemplate limiting it now that my children are at school. I do feel a change in my children and my relationship to them though and also feel that they quite appreciate not being bombarded with it anymore. They also enjoy being able to watch something they want to on the weekend much more. I really appreciate the fact that this blog has made me think about these issues, as otherwise I’d have just continued on autopilot.

      • I did try some Harun Yahya yesterday- it didnt last long as it didn’t compare with the world of cbeebies for her. At some point I would like to introduce her to Islamic characters such as the companions of the Prophet pbuh- but then may be that will be more effective when she could research a question on her own and report back. Saying that, yesterday on youtube, i did manage to finally show her what a sea storm looks like – as we meet it everyday in Idris Shah’s Fatimah the tent spinner. Now that might provide an interesting link for future endeavors: book complimented with youtube?! Thank you for touching on this much very topic.

  3. Many years ago I read a book by Bruno Bettelheim called “A Good Enough Parent.” What stayed with me was the title. As parents, we do the best we can, and “good enough” can be very good. I disliked hearing my parents say “I never did that when I was your age,” so I told my kids that I had grown up in a very different world; It was also true. When they have children, it will also be very different for them.

    I never watched much TV, so I had no problem not allowing my kids to watch TV. Movies… that’s another story. I was weaned on movies! Both my parents loved the movies, and so do I. I’m talking about the big screen, though. At some point, we did get a VCR, and Sunday morning the kids (then 5 & 7) would watch a movie.

    When my son was in his early teens, he convinced his father to get cable, allegedly to watch sports. His father was appalled that my son then watched TV everyday, duh, that was a no-brainer. When we finally got a computer, at first there was a 30 min limit on internet, then 45, then it became unlimted. Watching programs on YouTube? I haven’t gotten there yet. My kids certainly watch TV and YouTube videos, it’s a different world. I honour all you parents with young children doing your best, parenting IS one of the hardest jobs in the world.

  4. Yes, absolutely. Thanks Patzia.It’s tough being a parent. Personally, if I asked myself ‘am i doing enough’? I’ll fail each day. I see this more as ‘what can I learn or try out today’? or ‘how can I do my best?’ that seems to make the process a lot more dynamic and engaging for me as a parent. Needless to say, I haven’t shared all the times I feel my buttons have been pushed – and so while reflecting on parenting issues with normally things that have worked for me such as the meditating with children, I hope readers doesn’t assume it’s like this the whole time because it isn’t! 🙂

  5. On the subject of indoor activities to rival or better the box, a few days running now we’ve got out a whole load of kitchen things (plastic ice cube moulds, cutlery baskets, teacups and pots etc) and combined them with wooden blocks and cars and animals, first to make ‘dinner’, then have a teaparty, then to make a city. The plastic tigers and horses could roam free over the green (icecube tray) park, the cars parked in the (cutlery basket) garage and there was a whole assortment of bridges, domed buildings and even a mosque (a yellow plastic lemon juicer)!! They were totally absorbed for about an hour each time. Of course, they are only 2 and 4 (not even) and we have a great big oudoors to run to when they get cabin fever…but it marked a new step in them being able to use their imaginations and develop a game that I only had to start them off on. (It was also a lot fo fun for me!)

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