You know there’s perhaps a bit too much screen time going on when your son, in response to a question about why it’s taking him so long to get dressed, tells you: “I’m still busy loading.”
Erin also told me the other day that the game she was playing was being “unresponsive”. But it was only when she told me I could bring my phone with me to her bed so that I could scroll through Facebook after we had read her bedtime story, that I realised it was me who has become unresponsive because of all the technological distractions in our home.
Like most busy families, devices have become the easy option when we need a few minutes to get something done. But not only do we let the children spend too much time staring at screens, we as parents also tend to get sucked into arbitrary posts and videos of dancing cats on Facebook and Twitter. I didn’t realise what impact this could have on the children’s development until someone explained that they are becoming so accustomed to the multisensory stimulation of tablets and computer games, that they are finding it nigh impossible to sit still and “just” look at what’s happening on the board in the classroom. Handwriting skills take a backseat when all you have to do is swipe to the left to enter a digital wonderland ablaze with colour and sound. How can a book hold appeal when you have to actually read the words and actually use your hands to turn the pages?
So we decided to make some drastic changes. I informed Conor that Eskom (who says we can’t use the power utility for parenting purposes) had switched off the electricity for television in the mornings, and there would only be TV for one hour in the afternoon. He was very concerned about what would happen to his beloved train characters if he couldn’t watch them. But I assured him they would be waiting for him at Tidmouth Shed when the power returned. Erin looked at me aghast when I said she could choose to either play on her iPad or watch TV for a half an hour. “Not both?” This digital cold turkey was going to be more difficult than anticipated.
The first night was a bit hairy, I’m not going to lie. Conor whined and complained. There were tears and pleas. Erin mooched around, saying she was bored. But the next evening, I arrived home to find a fort constructed of boogie boards and all the pillows from the lounge stacked up in the TV room. Instead of the usual sounds of singing pirates blasting from the television, I heard my children shrieking in delight as they chased each other around an imaginary moat. I was immediately assigned a role as the evil giant in their pantomime, and for the next hour or so we played – the good-old fashioned way.
Mornings have also become far more manageable since we dropped breakfast in front of the TV. And it no longer takes Conor 20 minutes to “load” before he can leave the house. Now, to really call this digital overhaul a parenting win, we just have to convince the children to bring us croissants in bed on weekends, instead of watching TV, so that we can manage a lie-in (without checking Twitter, of course).
Anel has also invested in a compendium of games to keep the children busy when “Eskom” has turned off the TV’s power (and she needs to sneak off for a quick Facebook fix).