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Sunday 7 February 2021

To screen or not to screen


Our children and their screen time is a regular topic of concern amongst parents. A source of conversation filled with many unanswered questions and often attracting judgement or shame as well. Many parents wonder why do we need to control screen time? How much screen time is acceptable for kids? And how can we control our children’s screen time? Over this last year, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of our philosophies and theories became vague and questionable, because all of a sudden our kids had online teaching and for many of us parents screens became a survival tool as our own jobs fell into jeopardy or went online.

The reality

The world is evolving and technology is impacting on almost every aspect of our lives. We as humans can fight against it as much as we want too, but the transformation is happening and the online world is ever-increasing. Shopping, our jobs, our children’s schooling and the world as we know it, is all transforming into a more digital world. And with it comes the ever increasing fear of them being swallowed into this matrix.

Find balance

Although this digital transformation is inevitable, we are not powerless. We need to prepare our children to the best of our ability. Show them how they can work with technology to enrich their lives, without becoming consumed by it. As with most things in life, it is all about finding and keeping a balance between having to use the screen and living outside of the screen.

Our relationships need to become our priority. We need to use our relationships with each other and our children to help keep the balance. Don’t just force your child to spend time with you, but also get to know your child’s online world. Learn to play some of their games, watch movies or series with them that they enjoy. We need to reach them before we can teach them.

Practical suggestions

How can we keep our children ‘humanized’ and aware of life outside of the virtual world and the people therein? Here are some of the practical ways our family and friends are finding success with:

·         Limit screen time (excluding online lessons)
When our boys were much younger, we used a green and red circle to help them understand when screen time was (or was not) allowed. When the red circle was displayed on the corner of the TV screen (Monday to Friday) no TV was allowed. On a Saturday and Sunday, they would see the green circle displayed during the times when they could watch TV.

·         Limit devices
I do believe that this is especially important with younger children. Our boys for instance, have to share a TV and take turns to choose what they want to watch (from the parent approved options available to them). And because of their different tastes, one will often go do something else while it is their brother’s turn to choose.

·         Incorporate other activities:

o   Physical activities
We try to balance our children’s online lessons (first priority) with physical activities like taking our dog for a walk, doing a skipping challenge with a skipping rope, running up and down the stairs, cooking together, doing crafts, building models, gardening, wrestling with our boys or having a tea party outside.

o   Time outside
I highly recommend that you have a look at the 1000 hours outside challenge here:

o   Family time
Friends of ours, have an arrangement with their teenage boys whereby for every hour they spend in front of a screen (TV, online games, etc.), they owe their parents an hour, which they then use for cycling, hiking or swimming together as a family and that works very well for them.

o   Reading
Another family we know have a screen time rule that you first need to read for an hour before you can watch a screen for an hour. And discussions on the books happen during dinner time, to prevent their children from taking chances.

A warning

It is incredibly important that we as parents constantly check our school going children’s devices, no matter their age. The digital world can be incredibly dangerous with cyber bullying and cyber trolls and cyber wolves roaming around, looking for the innocent, na├»ve and vulnerable. Remember that it doesn’t just happen to other children. It can also happen to our own children. No one is immune to this.

Let’s teach our children how to safe guard not just their devices, but also their minds and hearts. And let’s do this by guidance and example. Don’t become swallowed into the matrix.

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