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Anyway, How Many Mobile Phones Does a 13-Year-Old Kid Need?
My wife’s mother and sister have arrived from Seoul for a one-month stay with us. As usual, on their arrival, they gave our three kids a gift of money - $200 each. Our two older boys – aged 14 and 13 – had no doubt what they needed: new mobile phones.
They already have one each, but these do little more than make calls. The new ones they've bought have text messaging, games, numerous ring tones, a voice recording facility and much more.
I work from home, and don’t even have a mobile phone. (Well, I do now – my oldest son has just given me his old one.) My computer is older than theirs, even though I use it all day in my writing. My wife and I are trying to be good Christian parents, stressing to our kids an ideal of modest living and service to others. Have we failed?
Last Saturday, our third son’s primary school held its fete, and for one-and-a-half hours I was on duty at the lucky dip stall. It was a typical Aussie scene – a glorious spring day, with thousands of relaxed people enjoying some good-natured fun. But something startled me - a steady stream of kids, many just five or six, who nonchalantly opened wallets and purses bulging with coins, to pay for the attractions.
Television was introduced to New Zealand (where I was born) when I was a boy. My mother refused to allow us to have a set for many years, and even then it was tightly rationed. That attitude – that television is a kind of a luxury, to be used sparingly - stayed with me until I went to live in Japan, and was astonished – and, initially, appalled – to find that most houses seemed to have the TV on all day.
Here is how my former colleague Peter Tasker described that phenomenon in his wonderful book Inside Japan:
Because Japanese houses are small, usually with one cramped living room, the TV is always physically close at hand, occupying a central position, much like the hearth in a Western home. Families settle down to their breakfast, lunch and dinner before the flickering tube. Even if a guest is present it is not considered discourteous to keep one eye on the screen all through the meal. Although there may be no interest in the programmes being broadcast, the set is rarely switched off. It acts as a kind of visual muzak. As the guest tucks into his sukiyaki he is but dimly aware of the rape of the doctor’s assistant; the comedian waddling around with his trousers around his ankles; the Giants’ [baseball team] sayonara home run; the screeching of tyres and the swishing of swords.
Mobile phones have already become like that for our young people – a utility, like the water supply, absolutely taken for granted. But money? Is it too heading in the same direction?
Money as muzak? Something that’s always there, to be ignored or used as required? I don’t know. Buying their first home – virtually a patriotic duty in Australia – is presumably going to force a change of attitude among our youngsters.
But meanwhile, Christian parenting sure isn’t getting any easier.
November 22nd, 2002