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Taming your tech monsters: time for a digital detox?

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Are your kids in need of a digital detox? Parent educator Anoush Davies says it’s time to reduce screen time and get back into family life

Way back in 2010, Eric Schmidt, then CEO of Google said: “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation up until 2003. That’s something like five exabytes of data.” Nine years have passed since then. Technology has developed much further and we now have the first generation of adults who don’t know what it is to exist without a computer or smartphone.

As we get ready to enter 2020, a new generation is emerging: People who think that touchscreens and free video calls to the other side of the planet are the absolute norm. Our kids are growing up in a world of high-end technology and social media. Each day there are new achievements in all aspects of our life; we talk about long life expectancy, biohacking, artificial intelligence and world digitalisation. It is happening all around us and, of course, our kids are drawn to this world of gadgets and new technology. We, as parents, have to make daily decisions about whether or not we allow screen and gadget-time, and for how long and of what type.

It seems to me that the answer is ultimately all about balance. The same restraint that permits two sweets but not the whole pack, or two glasses of wine but not the whole bottle ought to be applicable to devices. It would be strange – and unfair – in this day and age to completely prohibit access to tablets and smartphones. But to allow children access to the digital world without any control is not sensible, and could well be dangerous.

So how do we achieve this balance? When should you get a smartphone for your child and how many hours per week can he watch YouTube or play video games? Each family has its own rules, and paediatricians and scientists still can’t agree on a solution that keeps everyone happy. Nevertheless, here are a few common ground rules that might be useful.

Set the right example

As always, start with yourself. Look realistically at how much time the adults in your family spend on gadgets. If you spend hours on your smartphone or tablet then you will find it hard to explain to your child why he can’t do exactly that. If your onscreen time is work related, then explain that to your children. Show them what you are doing on the phone; show them the results of your work and remind them that even though Google is a good source of information not all of it is verified and true.

It is worth having clear family rules establishing blackout times when no one can use their gadgets. Before school and during meal times, for example. Explain why these rules are implemented: “In our house we don’t watch TV or play electronic games before school because it distorts attention and makes it harder to concentrate. During meals, we eat and talk and don’t stare at our screens. (Except sometimes when we go out to a restaurant and Mummy and Daddy want to chat…).

Ideally, bedrooms should be gadget-free zones (yours too), and that means no TV, no tablet, no smartphone and no chargers. No one should get into the habit of going to sleep with their devices turned on, doing so disrupts sleep patterns, and means you never really switch off.

Re-engage as a family

Now that we’ve covered your commitment to change and the importance of modelling this change, what else can you do? Tip one, limit your children’s choices. Let your kids know that they have x-amount of free time after dinner and homework (more at the weekends once they’ve completed certain chores), and it is up to them what they choose to do with that time. If necessary, they can ask for additional time and you can discuss whether that is viable and on what terms. Once children gain an understanding of the constraints of time, they can begin to make decisions about how to best utilise that time for themselves. What’s today’s priority? A bike ride to improve their chances in the Team FEAR Challenge (November 17), or another game of Minecraft?

Make an effort to watch TV together from time to time, so that you can stay up-to-date with your kids’ viewing preferences and also get them interested in programmes and series of your choice. Discuss with your kids the cartoons and movies that they watch, ask what exactly they like or don’t like about them – let them know that you are involved and engaged in what they are doing. While watching TV, it might be useful to discuss advertisements. Explain how advertising works, that it tries to play with our subconsciousness and make us want that purple plastic train or top-brand pair of trainers that in reality we really don’t need.

Try to be informed about the computer games and YouTube videos that interest your children. If you’re feeling really daring, start playing online games with them – appropriate ones, with managed times. This will help kids see that not all tech is ‘bad’ and that you’re happy to share some of the good stuff with them. Allowing your children to teach you how to play will help you find more common ground. It will mean some good conversations can begin.

It is way too easy these days to browse something ‘mature’ or to stumble across something not age-appropriate online, so make sure content filters are set on every single device. There are also many control apps you can install to check how much time your child has spent on the computer (try inthemoment.  io), or to check their online activity history (try mspy.com). Apps like these can be installed on phones and tablets, as well as computers. Make a point of explaining to your kids why you have installed them.

And finally, be aware that gadget dependency can develop quite quickly. It’s your responsibility to watch out for the first ‘red flags.’ Does your child spend more than three hours per day glued to his smartphone, tablet or computer? Is that the only time he’s happy? Does he fly into a rage (or get passive aggressive) when you try to limit his access to them?

If any of those signs are present in your child, it’s time for a ‘digital detox.’ Lose the tablet charger, lock and change the password on the smartphone and hide the TV remote. Come up with a hike, adventure or holiday to remind your child about the beauty of the ‘real’ world. When things are back to normal, you can reintroduce gadgets but this time with clear mutually accepted rules. Good luck and may the force be with you!

The founder of UpBright, Anoush Davies is a professional life coach, positive discipline parent educator and certified NLP and Emotional Intelligence practitioner. To find out more and check out her blog, head to www.upbrightglobal.com/blog.

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