It’s a funny old world we live in these days isn’t it? We spend more time focusing on the phone in our hand than we do looking at what’s happening around us in real life. I’ve been reading a lot of disturbing things about society’s addiction to social media recently and I could see some of it starting to happen in my own home, so I implemented some changes. I put down my phone and these are my reasons why;
Mobile phones didn’t exist when I was a kid and I”m so glad they didn’t! I didn’t have the worry of having to look ‘insta-perfect’ before I left the house each day (to be fair I still haven’t managed to grasp that concept, but you never know there’s hope for me yet!), there was no such thing as cyber-bullying and Saturday morning kids’ tv was the best! My weekends and school holidays were spent playing mostly outside, we would go out after breakfast and come in when Mum stood on the doorstep and called our names until we appeared! If I wanted to see friends at the weekend we had to make plans during the week and ask our parents to contact each other to make the arrangements and if I wanted to talk to them on the phone I had to sit in the corner of the lounge and have everyone listen to my conversations.
These days kids spend their entire school holidays in their bedrooms on tech. They stay up until the early hours talking to strangers online or completing a level on their game and are then struggling to stay awake in class the following day. They download games and apps without anybody really checking they’re suitable, if it has a picture of their favourite character it must be fine, right? Kids have hidden accounts so that they can hide what they’re doing online from their parents (Google ‘finsta accounts’ to find out more). Children are talking to complete strangers and being tricked into sending nude photos of themselves. This is not what childhood should be like. There’s no memories being made in all of this, they won’t look back on their childhood and say ‘do you remember the time I completed level 26 on that game?’
I know everyone says it and my kids roll their eyes when I say it, but life really was better back then. I had to ask my parents for permission to go out, to make a phone call, to wear a particular outfit and to watch certain tv programmes. It never occurred to me that this might be unfair, or ‘against my rights’ and I didn’t try and break these rules because I knew there would be consequences. Don’t get me wrong, my parents weren’t super strict, but I had boundaries and I respected them.
I didn’t give my kids phones until they were at the end of primary school and were just starting to walk home on their own, they were given them so they could call if anything happened. They are teens now but they still aren’t allowed to download apps without permission from myself or their Dad. We’re pretty strict about it and I don’t care. We regularly do spot checks on their devices and we check everything, to make sure they aren’t watching anything inappropriate, to make sure they’re not being bullied and to make sure they are not bullying others.
Despite all of this, things started to slide. Chores weren’t being done, behaviour started to deteriorate, homework was being left to the last minute and less and less time was being spent as a family. I was aware of it, but I wasn’t really paying any attention to it, just writing it off as a busy time and that things would get better. Then my phone broke. The battery has almost died, so I can only use it when it is plugged in and charging. I stopped using it so much. I stopped looking at Instagram all the time and I pretty much gave up with Facebook altogether. I suddenly had time to read more books, I had time to take the dog on longer walks, I was able to devote double the amount of time to my work (being self employed means that you have to be disciplined with your time and I had lost my grasp on that) and I watched tv properly rather than it just being on for background noise. I liked the change – a lot.
It also meant that I was paying more attention to my kids. I would always put my phone down to listen to them, but I was quick to pick it back up again. Now I was asking for their time and getting very little back because they were too busy looking at a screen. I realised how unhealthy this was and that it needed to change, fast. Mark and I put a new rule in place that all tech had to be switched off and handed in at a specific time each day (just mid-week, we’re a bit more relaxed on the weekends), the tech would be handed back once they were ready for school the following morning. We also put our phones down too, as we both had a habit of working until late and then wasting time on social media.
Here’s what happened: instead of spending the first 20 minutes of the morning sat in bed on tech, they were up and getting ready for the day ahead. The cat and dog got their breakfast on time (one of the few chores that the kids have), there was conversation over breakfast rather than the usual inane chatter of a YouTube video and a game being played at the same time. Beds were made and rooms were tidied before they left for school (they weren’t asked to do this, they simply did it because they had no distractions) and they left with plenty of time to spare, none of the usual last minute rushing out of the door. Once the tech was handed back in we were able to spend time as a family, talking, playing a game or watching a movie or tv together. School bags were packed in preparation for the following day. Homework was given the correct amount of attention and there was a general feeling of everyone being a lot more relaxed. The kids haven’t once said that they feel like they’re missing out by not having their tech available to them.
I’ve been following an Instagrammer called Collin Kartchner and he’s been focusing on the amount of time that kids spend on tech, especially their phone. He has been contacted by hundreds of concerned parents and teachers who are telling him that they feel like it’s an epidemic and that kids’ mental health is being damaged by spending too much time on social media. But now the kids are contacting him too. They are telling him that they spend their time on their phones because their parents are too busy on their own phone to hear what they are saying. Teenagers are telling him that they wished mobile phones were banned in the classroom because it’s affecting their learning. Kids as young as 12 are telling him that they have no self-worth because of comments made to them on social media. It is heartbreaking to read. It turns out that kids actually want the phones to be taken away or limited. They want their parents or guardians to switch off too and to spend more time with them. They want to have family time, to play boardgames or watch a movie together and believe it or not they actually want boundaries.
This is something we all need to look at and think carefully about. Is it time to restrict the amount of time spent on tech and to bring back some old fashioned ways of life? Is it time to start saying no to kids and putting those boundaries that never hurt us back in place? It’s what I’m doing and it’s not done my kids any harm so far.
Leave the phones in another room and play a board game with your kids tonight, you might just be surprised what comes out in conversation.