If we had to pick a Facebook status to describe our relationship with screens, it would be ‘it’s complicated’.
Yes, we could go without them for a bit (a claim confirmed when a water-logged phone had to stay in a bag of rice for 72 hours) but we’re also kinda addicted. Screens are just. so. great.
And when it comes to our kids, we’d love it if they’d go all Why Don’t You? on us (‘Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead’). But that’s not exactly realistic, is it? They’re not likely to do that by themselves.
So can someone just tell us what to do and how to set some boundaries please?
Introducing Bron Mandile. Bron is the editor of Mumlyfe, a parenting site for mums of older kids. She is a passionate advocate for working parents (yes!), writing extensively on life balance, common sense and strengths-based parenting and the ‘good enough’ parent. Bron has been writing lifestyle and parenting content online for over eight years, and has been an editor at Kidspot, Mumtastic and SBS. Her new eBook Screen Freedom gives parents winning strategies to get their kids to switch off screens and switch on their potential.
Who better to help us out with our modern day screens dilemma?
Hi Bron. Can you tell us a bit about what prompted you to write your e-book?
I’ve been writing about parenting issues for about eight years. Over that time I noticed that, like me, an increasing number of parents were grappling with setting boundaries on their kids’ use of screens. My son, especially, seemed unwilling or unable to find something else to do with his time besides gaming and watching YouTube videos (usually of other people gaming – what’s with that!?).
One of the biggest hurdles we faced with trying to change his relationship with technology was that he really seemed to have no clue as to what he could do instead of screens. Screen Freedom is basically the strategy we used to entice him and my two daughters away from screens, combined with more than 100 activities that kids can get into instead.
Because that’s the bottom line for me, really. I don’t mind screens at all (in fact, I kind of love them), but what concerns me is all the things a kid isn’t doing because they are glued to a screen instead. They are missing out on a lot of creative, social and physical opportunities.
Along the way, I had to get real with myself about my own relationship with technology and my relationship with my kids. Leaving them entertained by screens is so much easier than fighting with them to do something else. Screens are an easy way out, but my research showed me that the cost of leaving them ‘happy on screens’ made the fights 100% worth having.
Has the book changed your phone use habits long-term?
One of the strategies I talk about in the book is probably the hardest for parents to put into place: to change our kids’ phone habits, we’ve got to rely on our phone less ourselves. Like any aspect of parenting, our kids learn best when we show them something in action. So my husband and I have boundaries on our screen time along with the kids.
To help me break the “checking” habit on my phone, I did these three things:
1. I keep to four times a day to view and respond to email
2. I took Facebook and Twitter off my phone entirely
3. I cleared all Notifications on my phone
Have you been surprised by the response to the book?
It’s early days yet, but I’m really pleased with the feedback I’m receiving. It’s quite a large book for an ebook and I think that’s surprised people. There’s a lot in there to absorb and try out to see if it fits with individual families.
What’s been the most unexpected response?
I don’t think it was entirely unexpected, but I’ve been surprised by the number of parents who haven’t identified that their kids are lost without screens. Lots of kids literally do not know what to do when we take their screens away. I think the value of the book is in teaching kids how much fun other creative hobbies are – life isn’t always about technology. The book gives parents plenty of responses to the “I’m bored” restless kid syndrome that we all seem to be so afraid of these days.
Have you heard many horror stories about out-of-control screen use?
I have had a few eye-opening emails from parents whose kids are really out of control. They are gaming every minute that they are not at school and some are skipping school so they can keep playing. The same is true for TV shows that kids binge on via Netflix and YouTube channels where the kids feel like they are part of a community. It’s really quite concerning that many kids’ social needs are being met by strangers creating content online for money…
Do you have any advice on healthy phone use for 8-13 year-olds?
I think what’s considered “healthy” will vary from family to family. I’m not a Luddite by any stretch of the imagination and I want to make it clear that my children still use screens every day. I think it’s less about the quantity and more about the quality of what they are using devices for.
For instance, I think there’s a big difference between a kid watching YouTube videos to learn how to play guitar and a kid spending the same amount of time watching someone unbox toys. Or a child creating their own tutorial videos (not necessarily uploaded) versus watching someone else’s. Games are great for entertainment, but they shouldn’t be a kid’s whole life.
For the record, there is no set guideline in the UK on how much screen time a tween should get, but the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says that children should have some TV-free days in a week, and have two-hour limits set on time spent in front of screens.
What’s your favourite app?
I spend the most time on Instagram on my phone or Facebook on computer. My favourite app for reducing time on phones is Moment and on computer something like TimeStats (Chrome plugin) shows you what you spend your time doing online. Quite confronting!
What’s the best thing about devices? And the worst?
The best thing is being able to find out anything we need, whenever we need, and being connected to people wherever we are.
The worst is when we forget that we actually don’t need to know everything and we don’t need to be connected 24/7.
What do you think the future will bring in terms of our relationship with phones and other screens?
Truthfully, I don’t think anything is going to change. We’ll still have our heads in our phones, forgetting to look up. I think that’s a person’s choice when they are an adult, but it concerns me a great deal what that kind of lifestyle is doing to a kid’s developing brain.
What’s your favourite screen-free antidote to hours on a device?
Leave the phone at home and go outside. Find some nature and immerse yourself in it for a while. Talk to people, be curious about what’s happening around you, plan an adventure, use your brain.
Technology is a wonderful tool for our kids to explore their creativity, we just need to make sure that it’s our kid being the creative one, not the person they are watching on a tiny screen. We need to encourage our kids to be creators, not simply observers.