Giving up the guilt about screen time

Screens – tablets, phones, computers, TVs, kindles – how much do you love yours?

I’m in the ‘love them a lot but hate them a little bit too’ group.

The use of smartphones and tablets in particular is such a contentious issue it seems, but we all still have them, and have come to rely on them and the technology they give us at our fingertips, even if we actually dislike it!

Are we spending too long staring at screens?
Are we spending too long staring at screens?

Before we went on holiday at the end of July, we agreed that we each had to give up our use of tech for the week. We were fed up of our monkeys waking up and the first thing they’d do was go on the iPad. My hubby, too, seems to carry his around without thinking about it and checks football forums as much as I check my social networks and blogs on my smartphone. It’s become our new way to relax in the evening, instead of watching soaps on TV.

Leaving behind the tech

Every so often, we notice that the monkeys are spending a bit too long looking at screens – you know you’re in trouble when their cheeks start to go pink! If they spend too much time on the games, without decent breaks, they become cranky and argumentative, especially our 7yo who absolutely loves video games and tends to ignore us when we ask him to come off them. So we try to limit their time and throw in decent breaks from all screens once in a while. Our general rule is tablets/computer only at the weekends, unless they’ve earned a special go on it (by doing chores for example), and they often earn some time during the week.

So this holiday, we left behind my daughter’s and hubby’s iPads and my laptop. We even left behind the in-car DVD player, which we use on journeys over two hours to keep the peace on the back seat!

At first it felt odd to be without our gadgets, but as we were on holiday it was easier to be distracted by the fun stuff to do so we really didn’t miss it at all. We didn’t even have all the TV channels we are used to. So for my TV-loving son, it was CBeebies or nothing! They actually enjoyed watching their ‘old’ favourite programmes again, much to the baby’s delight!

Catching up with CBeebies!
Catching up with CBeebies!

I was looking forward to the break from the tech, but it made me realise how much I use – and need – my phone, and while I was very ‘good’ and really kept my uses to a minimum, I didn’t feel guilty that I was spending too much time on it in general. It’s become a way of simplifying my life, just like a microwave can cook soup faster than on the hob, or using a vacuum cleaner is faster than beating the carpet, and driving to town is faster than walking! Progress and change are going on all the time.

I use my phone for all kinds of things and can quickly do a food shop, or donate to a friend’s charity page, or share a photo, write or read a blog post, or, as we discovered on holiday, go on GoogleMaps and find out which direction we needed to go in, or where the nearest child-friendly restaurant was! These are some of the benefits cleverly used to promote iPhone 5 in its latest TV advert aimed at parents.

So what exactly is wrong with screen time?

There’s a saying that too much of anything is a bad thing. And this certainly applies to screen time. I see quotes like the one below all the time – designed to make us feel guilty for what we have become. Yet it makes me smile to think this very quote was created using a digital camera, a computer and the internet.

image

Yes, we were perhaps more grateful without technology in our hands; we were excited just going to the rubbish tip! But we don’t live in a remote part of the world, we certainly don’t live in the past, and crucially, we’ve all contributed to this progress (even my 87-year-old grandma has a tablet). Yet we seem to be annoyed with ourselves, and judge each other, for it.

Our children have been born into a world with freely accessible technology, and it’s worrying, as we can see the next generations looking at computers instead of the stars, trees and each other. I do hate the void that technology sucks us into, but then I’m thankful too for it.

I get increasingly irritated by our nanny state culture telling us that too much TV/screen time is frying our children’s brains one minute, that we should feel bad because our kids aren’t happily having sack races down the street, but then the next telling us that time on games is actually a good thing!

Surely a little common sense is all that it takes? I know the gadgets have their bad points, they can be very distracting, and okay, we all sometimes get a bit cranky if we overdo it, but, realistically, where is the harm?

image

Perhaps part of our irritation is that we (the parents) are reminiscing somewhat inaccurately about the ‘glory days’ of our own youth. How we played out till late, climbed trees, went round friends’ houses and made up games out of rubbish we found. But I also remember the dull days, and dangerous encounters of being out on the streets all day. It wasn’t all ‘better’. It wasn’t Narnia. To see our children with their heads down in a game feels wrong (yet we conveniently forget how much we loved our Nintendo, Pac-Man or Sega Megadrive back then).

Treating screen time as just another hobby

My children have lately become more interested in computer games such as Minecraft; games which challenge the brain to think and resolve problems. Even the secondary school Monkey 2’s starting in September expects most homework tasks to be researched online, word processed and uploaded to a student portal… no more excuses about the dog eating the homework then! So even if we wanted to, we can’t ignore the progress that is going on around us.

Son is reading a proper book... about his computer game
Reading a ‘proper’ book… about the Minecraft computer game

Monkey 3 enjoys playing with Lego, reading, and playing football. Monkey 2 loves horse riding and goes four nights a week, so I’m happy that they are getting out in the fresh air regularly.

Monkey 2 also enjoys making bracelets with loom bands, playing with her toys and reading books (proper ones made of paper). And as for my baby, Monkey 4, he’s too young at the moment so is happy to play with a soft toy, but of course he’s entered this world with technology at home (whereas we didn’t own tablets or snazzy phones when the others were born). He’s already used to seeing my phone camera taking his picture!

A sand school made by my daughter
A sand school made by my daughter

So how about embracing the technology we have for our benefit?

At the weekend, we used our phones in an entirely new way and went Geocaching for the first time, and managed to find two caches! It was a great little treasure hunt and I have Suzanne from Three Children and It to thank for the idea. My hubby and son loved it so much they did it again the following day. But of course we needed technology in order to enjoy that particular outdoor activity in the first place. The handy app helps you track and find the caches and you can log your progress. It’s the ideal way to use smartphone technology for leisure pursuits.

20140803_144805
Finding a cache, using our smartphone technology

Breaking the days and weeks up with outdoor activities makes having screen time not all that significant, in the end. And if it starts to take over then a short holiday from it like we had is the ideal way to break any bad habits. So long as a basic etiquette is followed (and a good measure of common sense) then I’ve no problem with us taking time out on a computer or tablet; heaven knows, we have enough to worry about in this life as it is!

What do you think? Have you got similar rules about screen time or specific plans for the holidays?

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