OVER the last two weeks I posed some challenges on how you live without your device? In the first week I set you a challenge; could you live without your smartphone for 48 hours? Most of those who accepted the challenge said they couldn’t. Many tried but failed. The next challenge was to live without a smartphone as a family for two hours during weeknights from 7pm to 9pm.
The premise of the challenge was to disconnect in order to reconnect. I undertook the challenges myself. And I have to say I found them difficult. The 48-hour challenge was the most difficult. It felt like something was missing. That was an uncomfortable insight into my own relationship with technology.
It’s hard to express what devices have done to our lives. But we all see it, it’s right in front of us: Restaurants with couples, heads down, on their devices; train journeys with kids silently checking their streams; bedrooms filled with the noise of expletives as children play together while alone, and family dinnertime consigned to history.
We welcomed these devices in like a trojan horse. They have infiltrated every aspect of our life. In my experience, they have disrupted intimacy and separated children from once loved outdoor activities.
Of course, it’s easy to bash technology, and I certainly don’t want to do that. Because I know these modern games are here to stay and also connect children in rural villages and allow them to interact with a global village of gamers. But I have seen, first hand, the impact they have on the modern family. And it’s not positive. So, I set a series of challenges to try to help us take our lives back from them. I have to say, I enjoyed the 7pm to 9pm challenge. My eldest daughter is 10 years old and obviously doesn’t have a smartphone. So, I didn’t meet the same resistance that many of you did with older children.
My daughter is in fifth class, and many of her friends have smartphones. Thankfully, Hannah has never seriously asked for one, maybe because she knows the answer. I get asked this a lot in my clinic, should I give my child a smartphone because all their friends have one? And I always say the same thing, you never give away your parental authority to other parents.
And remember, not all children will be able to manage a smartphone responsibly. You have to look at the child you have and ask yourself an important question: Will this child be able to manage all of what a smartphone will bring into their life because it is considerable? If you think they are too immature for it, I would suggest you stay away from them. I have worked with so many families who have been devastated because of their child’s activity online. So, think before you buy.
I feel that my eldest daughter would be able to manage it but as a family, we have a policy, no smartphones before secondary school. That’s it. We will re-evaluate the situation when she goes into secondary school. But as a blanket policy, there is no discussion before that point. So, the kids don’t ask us about it.
It’s important to have a policy for technology. We have three daughters so the two other younger daughters will be watching what happens with the eldest, so the message we give must be consistent and clear. Children thrive when the boundaries are clear.
The final challenge in this three-week series is an important one. I give talks and write a lot about building children’s resilience in the tech age. It’s something I’m passionate about. We all want to raise children who are compassionate, empathetic while also being resilient and strong.
We don’t want our children to be pushovers. They need teeth in the world and they need to value themselves. So, this week’s challenge is as follows: Every Saturday for one month allow your children to pick an activity that you all do as a family. Rotate who decides each week. But you must leave your phone at home for however long the activity takes.
When we allow our children to pick an activity and we all enjoy it as a family we are building that child’s confidence and sense of self. They will look around and see you all enjoying whatever activity they have chosen and subconsciously think, ‘wow my family respects my ability to pick something we all can enjoy, they value me’. What a gift of parenting that is. Make sure there are no devices during that family time.
I’m currently getting ready to head off on a pony trek in Clonakilty. Hannah’s choice. I don’t know where my phone is, and it feels good. If you don’t hear from me, you know what happened.