Last week I went to Barnet Copthall Leisure Centre for a swim while my 8 year old trained with the Dolphins swimming club. After I finished my swim I went to watch him in the training pool, while he finished off his butterfly session.
After ten minutes of watching him plough up and down, I admit I felt a bit bored (I like watching him swim in races but training can be, well, dull). So I got my mobile phone out to check my emails and listen to some music on my iPhone.
Now there are signs at Barnet Copthall that state quite clearly ‘no mobile phones allowed’, but I thought given that I wasn’t making any calls and my phone was on silent this wouldn’t be an issue. Clearly the lifeguard on duty thought differently and told me to stop using my phone because it is has a camera and could be used for taking pictures, in her words, of ‘semi-naked children.’ I must admit I felt quite shocked. She even questioned, somewhat impertinently, why I would want to check my emails while my child was swimming – though presumably if I was reading a magazine or book that would be OK.
As a Dad – and human being – I am disgusted by any child abuse. So the insinuation that I could be taking pictures of children, even though my mobile phone was pointed firmly at the floor I found deeply upsetting and depressing (especially as half a dozen mothers were on their mobile phones, texting and making calls). When I asked the lifeguard to explain the policy she said it was specifically because mobile phones have cameras built inside them.
However, when I pointed out that loads of electronic devices now have cameras built inside them – including the iPod Touch and Nintendo DSi – and could also be used for taking pictures she didn’t have an answer. Surely, if you are going to ban mobile phones on account of them having a camera built inside – and I understand the reasons for this – then you need to be consistent and ban all portable electronic devices with a camera?
As a compromise, she said I could use my mobile phone to send emails, texts etc, but only if I kept it in my bag. To me, though, that seemed even more furtive so in the end I just put the offending device away.
Contrast this to Center Parcs in Longleat where I spent a long weekend. I saw several Mums and Dads filming and taking pictures of their kids swimming, some actually underwater with waterproof camcorders. No one said anything and I don’t think it was an issue with the organisation either. Of course, it is possible that these adults were filming my child in just his trunks and I knew nothing about it (I sincerely hope not). But the chances are that they weren’t. They were just trying to capture memories of their children enjoying a fantastic holiday.
I think we all need to get some perspective. While I certainly wouldn’t want to do anything to encourage paedophiles to film children, surely once the lifeguard had established I was a parent of a child in the club and not someone who has just walked in off the street she could have exercised a bit of common sense and allowed me to use the phone. After all this was the same place where six months earlier I had – perfectly legitimately – filmed my son win his first Barnet Primary Schools Gala (seemingly it wasn’t a problem that day).
I regularly watch that footage back on my mobile phone and it gives me an enormous sense of pride. And while I don’t think it would be right to allow mobile phones to a standard training session with other kids around, if you are going to have a mobile phone ban on the grounds of them having built in cameras then surely you need a sign that bans all portable electronic devices with cameras including iPod Touches, games consoles etc.