In 2000, we bought our first computer—a desktop. It sat in the study, connected to a phone line via a cable, and we turned it on to use it, and off again when we’d finished. Some days, it didn’t get turned on at all.
Fast forward to 2015. Each member of this family has a laptop, and a smart phone, and most of us have an iPad. Not to mention the iPods, Nintendos, and X-box. Our computers are permanently on and are rarely turned off. We don’t just check our emails once a day, but we’re notified as soon as one arrives in our inbox. Our wi-fi enables us to take our screen anywhere in the house, and with mobile broadband, we can take it anywhere at all.
Over the holidays, sometimes our house was silent. I loved it—working upstairs in peace and quiet. Until I came downstairs to a room of silent kids—all in front of screens, ear phones in situ. No one talking to the other. Each one absorbed by the screen in front of them. It didn’t escape me that I’d just pulled myself away from my own screen upstairs.
I’m the first to admit I’ve lost control of my family’s screen time. And I let it happen. I’ve loved that my kids have been entertained and I have peace. I love that I can Skype my daughter on the other side of the world or country. I love that I can google anything and find instant answers to my questions. I love that I can contact someone and get a fast response. I love that my kids can access their teachers and their school anytime of the day. It’s all wonderful and so, so convenient …
Yet, I feel as if our family has been taken over by our screens. In my day, TV was the screen of choice. That box that sat in the middle of the house, where our parents could see what we were watching and how late we were up. And we connected with friends via a telephone, out in the hallway where everyone could hear our conversations, and if we tied up the line for too long, we were cut off.
Our TV now sits blank most of the time—mainly because none of us ever wants to watch the same thing at the same time. Why would we when we can watch whatever we please on our own private screens?
And I can’t remember the last time the landline rang …
Apart from the amount of time my kids spend facing a screen, it worries me that I have no idea who they’re contacting and what they’re watching. As they grew into teenagers, they wanted privacy, and began to spend more time in their rooms behind closed doors. Occasionally, I’ve entered a bedroom late at night to the eerie glow of a screen and a pair of startled eyes.
‘Oh, I was just turning it off …’ is the inevitable response, as their fingers pull at the ear phones.
I’ve grumbled at the time and taken the phone/computer/iPad away. But after a couple of days, they need it. And the thing is, they do need it—for school or homework. So I give it back.
‘It’s only allowed in the study,’ I say. ‘Not in your bedroom.’
‘But there’s too much noise,’ they plead. ‘And I work better at my desk.’
So, I let them take it to their room.
‘And I need my phone,’ they say, ‘to call you when it’s time to pick me up.’
So I let them have that too. ‘But bring it to me of a night,’ I say.
‘But I need it for my alarm in the morning,’ they say.
And gradually I forget to monitor it again, because it’s too hard, and before I know it, we’re back to Square One, and the screens have taken over our lives again …
I hate it. I hate seeing my kids glued to a screen. I hate how ‘connected’ we have to be, how essential it is, even for school, and how I can’t disconnect them. I hate the pressure of it—on my kids and on me—to be in constant contact. I hate how ubiquitous the internet has become.
And I hate how I’ve lost control over what and who my kids have access to.
Until recently I’d more or less turned a blind eye, and hoped to make it through without the need for intervention. But recently, my husband and I made a few decisions, none of which has been popular.
1. We have banned some sites from our home internet. Full stop. We’ve chosen a moderate filter level, so it bans pornography, for example, but will allow Facebook and YouTube.
2. We’ve set up the router so that sites like YouTube and ‘I Waste So Much Time’ are only accessible on weekends, and Facebook is only available between certain hours.
3. We’ve also made the rule that all mobiles must be delivered to the kitchen by 9pm.
These have not been popular decisions:
‘You’re so overprotective.’
‘No one else’s mother does this.’
‘You’re treating us like children.’
‘None of my friends will like me.’
This is a health issue, I explained to them. It’s not good for your eyesight, and the earphones aren’t good for your hearing. It’s also not good for your sleep. You’re still kids, and as your parent it’s my duty to look after your health. It’s also my duty to protect you from danger. The internet is wonderful, I know, but it is also a vast and scary place …
The other side of this is that I’ve had to change my habits, too. To be honest, I’ve been feeling the pressure of being constantly connected, worrying if my blog post was late, afraid I’d offend someone if I didn’t comment on their blog or if I missed an important Facebook status. So I’m apologising in advance because I’m not going to be as ‘connected’ as I have been in the past. Please excuse me and please don’t take it personally if I miss your blog or Facebook post. It’s just that I have to be a role model for my kids—it’s a family health thing.
I’d love to know if anyone else has struggled with this and how you solved it—but please don’t feel pressured to comment if you’ve already spent too much time in front of a screen today!