I grew up on Sesame Street and cheesey buns from the grocery store; I watched The Flinstones at noon, and occasionally, I sat with my dad while he watched two cowboy style movies simultaneously, switching back and fourth between them, so as to skip the commercials. That was the amount of ‘screentime’ I was exposed to, but back then we just called it TV.
Today children are bombarded by shiny screens everywhere they turn; media is an easy and common addiction, something many of us are dealing with without realizing. In our home, we’ve chosen a different route. Our children - ages 14, 5, and 2 - have been raised against the usual stream of hypnotic, glowing screens. This is not to say that we don’t own and use them, but that we choose to focus our energies on the world around us. Here are a few tips on how we make it work:
Let them earn it
When Big Brother has wanted a cellphone/videogame system/iPod/latest tech craze, we never said no, but we did tell him that he would have to purchase them himself. We felt that our money was better spent providing experiences for him, rather than things that would take him away from what he loved doing - like drumming and drawing. So last summer, at the age of 13, he did just that. He got himself a job, and he earned that IPod, fair and square. Our younger kids have no need for this type of technological interaction. Their job is to play, in a creative, tangible way.
A list of expectations to be applied the use of the iPod was created to keep us all on the same page, and held Big Brother accountable. We all signed the contract and stuck it up on the fridge. It included things such as ‘I will never take pictures of my body’, ‘I will leave my iPod on the counter each night at bedtime’, and ‘should this interfere with my schooling, it will stay home’ etc. But more often than not, we just let him go with it. He bought it, and we see this as practice for real life. We’re here to help guide him in case he needs us, and he knows that anything on that (annoying) thing is fair game for anyone to read, since it really isn’t a place to store private information.
Ask yourself what the original purpose of the device was
If your child has access to or has his own device, you may want to ask yourself why? This will help you to see if it is really being used in the manner you had intended; even as adults, we can slip away from our original 'rules'. "Jimmy can have a cellphone for calling us when he has arrived at the park" can easily turn into, "okay Jimmy, just one more hour playing Clash of Clans while I make dinner". Was it for educational purposes? For your daughter to be able to have access to various spelling apps to help her with her learning disability? Is she really using it for this purpose, and are you supporting her in this pursuit?
What did people do before IPads?
While waiting in the doctor's office, riding the bus etc., it was once an opportunity for us to connect with our children. It was a break from the laundry list of chores at home, and we had no choice but to connect with each other, or stare out the window. You may find that a game of I SPY while waiting in the waiting room gives you a few minutes to play together and actually draws out your child's attention span, preventing the jittery meltdown that may ensue.
Is your child showing signs of hyperactivity?
Excessive whining? Constant sibling arguments? Bouncy, jittery kids with blood shot eyes? What about a lack of imagination, or constant boredom? It might be time to unplug. A cleanse from all screens (tv included) is always tricky in the beginning, but afterwards, you'll be left with a calmer, less bouncy child - one who doesn't ask every.five.seconds. if he can watch just one more episode. Get outside and explore the signs of spring; walk to the store and choose fresh flowers and make bouquets for your house; get out the paint and head outdoors for some Jackson Pollock- style painting; or, invite a playmate over to occupy your kids. Nothing occupies a five year old like two five year olds.
Have you chosen to plug your children in as a result of what everyone else is doing?
It might be time to reevaluate. Following your feelings as a parent is usually the right thing to do. Trust your instincts, even if it may be difficult.
Do as I say not as I do
Our job as parents? We’ve gotta live it. If we’re living on the web, chances are, our kids will expect to be able to do the same.
Jacquelyn is HayMama - an artiste (pronounced with an 'eeste') tackling a multitude of works, mother raising three kiddos, lover of books, seeker of knowledge, consumer of great coffee, follower of nature, lover and friend to her one and only. You can find the beginnings of her work on her beautiful blog.