Cyber Mum – Cutting Screen Time… Say not to Yourself!

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Much has been written about how digital overload can impair a child’s social, emotional and intellectual growth so with the school holidays approaching, I thought this month I would talk about how to cut down screen time.

Parents, you may not like me … But generally we are often at fault, directly or indirectly, when children and teenagers become hooked on electronic media, playing video games or sending texts many hours a day, instead of interacting with the real world and the people in it. As parents, we have an opportunity to guide our kids so that they can learn habits that help them make use of the digital world, without being swallowed by it. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that for some reasons, today’s parents are unprepared to deal with the intense pull and highly addictive nature of what the online world has to offer. There are two common parental behaviours that can strongly influence a child’s tendency to abuse electronic media.

  1. Some parents are perpetually tuned into their own devices, responding to every ping of their mobile phone and tablets, receiving and sending messages at times that would enrage us if it were our child.
  2. Other parents fail to establish and enforce appropriate rules for media engagement by their children.

Young children learn by example, often copying the behaviour of adults. I often see youngsters in prams or on foot with a parent who is chatting or texting on a mobile phone, instead of conversing with the children in their charge. Parents should think twice before using a mobile device when with their children. I suggest you try to make a conscious effort to check email and your social media before your children get up, while they are in school, or after they go to bed. Aside from the responsible parenting aspect, research has found that when parents are absorbed in their own devices, children are more likely to act out, apparently to get their parents’ attention. Experts are especially concerned about parental failure to pay full attention to their children at critical times of the day, like when taking children to and from school. This should be a mobile free zone for everyone – no Bluetooth for parents or devices for the kids. The pickup from school is a very important transitional time for kids – a time for them to download their day. Parents shouldn’t be saying, “Wait a minute; I have to finish this call”. Likewise, when parents come home from work, they should walk in the door unplugged and use the first hour they are home as time to reconnect with the family.

I strongly recommend that neither parents or children should be using devices when the family dines out; the art of dining and the connection between delicious food and nourishing conversation is being lost, not just in restaurants, but at home as well.

Interestingly, medical experts attribute a 20 per cent increase in accidental injuries seen in pediatric emergency rooms due to parents’ failure to pay full attention to those they are supposed to be watching, like infants and toddlers in the bathtub or children at the playground. Your reaction time and attention is not the same when you’re texting or talking on a mobile phone. I encourage establishing device-free times of the day, like the first hour after school and the hour before bed and most importantly, mobile phones – including parents’ – should not be allowed at the dinner table.

Make time for real-life activities with your kids that let them know that they’re worth your time and undivided attention. Do things together that nourish your relationship. So with winter school holidays upon us, here are some ideas on things you can do as a family without technology:

  • Cook dinner together
  • Visit the local soup kitchen and help make dinner for the less fortunate
  • Do a jigsaw puzzle
  • Have a family picnic
  • Take a bike ride
  • Play frisbee
  • Go swimming
  • Play with your pet
  • Go to the park
  • Look through old family photo albums
  • Go bowling
  • Play hide and seek
  • Visit a relative
  • Find a grass hill and go sledding on some cardboard boxes
  • Have a family touch football game
  • Go ice skating
  • Go outside and take some fun family photos
  • Make a meal and surprise an elderly or sick neighbour
  • Play a board game or a game of cards
  • Build a fort or cubby indoors or outdoors
  • Hike through the bush
  • Shoot some hoops
  • Have a fire and roast marshmallows
  • Go fishing
  • Go for walk on the beach
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