Thursday, December 04, 2014

technology and children: what's your recipe for harmony?

Recipes don't always have to involve food. Today I want to talk about technology and children, do the two go together in your house? Is it creating stress or harmony?

A bit like sugar, technology - tablets,  smart phones, computers and video games - has become a pervading force in our modern life.

Like many people, I question how much technology has actually improved the quality of our lives.

And when it comes to young children and teenagers using technology, I'm definitely not convinced it is doing them many favours. And probably I can say the same for adults!

I know this topic can divide people easily but it has been on my mind a lot lately, mainly because we don't have to look far to see small children, teenagers and adults with their gaze fixed on a screen, or to meet parents pulling their hair out because all their kids want to do is play on their iphone or parents of teenagers who can't get them off computer games or worse are experiencing cyber bullying.

With all this in mind I thought I'd write about technology and children here and share where we're at with technology in our family.

I'm focusing on young children because that's the age of my children but I ask you to share your experiences in the comments with young children and teenagers, or your own use of technology.

When it comes to technology, are you happy? frustrated? making changes?

Our family's technology backstory

When I met my husband Pete 11 years ago he had no idea how to even turn a computer on, let alone send an email.

We'd been going out for a couple of months and he started saying, "I was out today and someone asked me for my email address, because I don't have one I gave them yours. They'll be sending a document through I need to look at, can you let me know when you get it?"

Hmmm. I quickly set about getting Pete an email address and teaching him the basics.

I signed up to be his girlfriend, not his personal assistant!

Computers are tools not toys

That small anecdote gives you an indication of where Pete is at with technology - he'd rather be fishing or surfing! He has told our boys from a very young age "computers are tools not toys".

Because Pete and I work from home, our sons are used to seeing one or both of us in front of our computer screens working.

We do try and arrange it though so that we are not both on our computers at the same time when the boys are home.

It is really important to me that when we are together as a family, the boys don't see Pete and I constantly in front of our computers or looking at our phones.

I am conscious of being present at the park, at the beach, at the pool where ever I am with the boys that I am there, not on facebook!

The technology we own

- Pete and I have a laptop each
- we have one television (& DVD player)
- I have a smart phone
- Pete has a not smart phone (what is the word for old mobile? lol) and that's it for us and screens.

When we went on our road trip this year we decided to buy the boys a portable DVD player each for the car. It was a big decision for us to do this because the only screen time they have is ABC television or movies on the weekend, but we are definitely glad we did!

Believe it or not, our original plan on the trip was that the boys would only watch nature documentaries as part of their home schooling. That changed a couple of months into the trip as we collected a few movies along the way and David Attenborough took a backseat to the musical Oliver (?! such a grim story in so many ways but River and Sol loved it)

Either way, the boys watching a movie or documentary meant that we could put in a six or seven hour day driving. The rest of the time in the car, River looked at his footy cards, Sol was happy playing with his toys, we talked or listened to CD's. Oh and yes they did still squabble.

Technology and screen time in our house

At this age and stage with Sol being 5 and River being 8, their technology/screen time rules go like this:

- No use of my smart phone at all (I have shown River how to make a phone call in case of an emergency)
- ABC TV or a movie on the weekend usually about 2 hours or less on each day
- No TV before or after school
- Occasionally, perhaps once a week, River is allowed to use my computer for 1/2-1hour to do mathletics or to type up a creative story.

My self-imposed technology rule:

- No computer time/emails or social media before or after school

I clock off from technology before I pick the boys up from school and kinder and then I don't return to it until they are in bed. I want to spend time with them, or have them see me doing things other than being distracted by my phone or computer. I would rather they see me reading, handwriting in my notebook, cooking, gardening and so on. Gosh I sound so old-fashioned don't I? :) But it's the truth.

Pete and I also have a no phone rule during dinner. That is, if our phones ring or we get a text message we don't answer and we respond to messages after dinner.

What the experts say

Before we get to the academic experts, let's remind ourselves that we are the experts when it comes to our own children.

First and foremost, it is up to us to listen to and trust our intuition when it comes to supporting and nourishing their physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual development.

Even if it means going against the tide.

American-Jewish child psychologist and author, David Elkind points out in his article Technology's Impact on Child Growth and Development that there is considerable disagreement among experts regarding the effects of technology on the development of children.

I think part of the reason for this is because the impact and research is still a work in progress on the first generations of children to be exposed literally from birth to such a diverse range of screens, including baby bouncers with inbuilt screens.

 Professor of Psychology, Jim Taylor considers how technology effects the way children develop their ability to think and focus. In his article, How Technology is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus he writes,

"...because their brains are still developing and malleable, frequent exposure by so-called digital natives to technology is actually wiring the brain in ways very different than in previous generations. What is clear is that, as with advances throughout history, the technology that is available determines how our brains develops."

For me, at the age and stage my boys are at I feel there is far more value for my children in:

- playing outside
- building cubbies
- painting
- reading books
- playing with puzzles
- playing with playdough
- playing musical instruments
- playing with their toys
- playing board games
- cooking
- talking on the phone to their relatives
- planting seedlings in the veggie garden
- creative writing
- making a mess. And cleaning it up!
- squabbling with each other and sorting it out
- drawing...

And so on. These are the things that my sons do before and after school and this feels right for us at this time.

I know that I don't get these early years with my sons again. These years where they are close and where I can have a major influence on how they spend their time.

At age 8 River is only just beginning to talk about the fact that some of his friends play games on technology.

Perhaps when he is a bit older we will need to re-visit these rules and make new ones but for now it gives me great joy to wake up and find him laying on the couch reading a book and his little brother playing with his toys in an imaginary world.

Now over to you, where is your family at with technology? Does it cause problems or enhance your family life?


  1. I feel as though you wrote this post just for me! A couple of days ago I 'broke' our tv - amazing how it won't turn on when not plugged in ;) My 2.5 year old was seemingly spending more and more time in front of it, asking for it even. I freely admit the television was my saviour during the last month of my pregnancy & for the last 3 months of newborn bliss (read: fog) but I called time on it this week. Now I feel it causes far more conflict than anything, I was tired of nagging! I went to the extreme of switching it off altogether to break our habit of using it, without having a power struggle over the silly thing. Will be interesting to see if and when it goes back on...much love xox

    1. Audrey I did write this post just for you. oh ok and the other readers :) I remember my husband actually turning the power off one day when our eldest boy was about 2.5 for the same reason as you've mentioned! I am a big believer that mamas sanity must come first and I totally get that the TV helped you though the end stages of pregnancy/newborn daze. See this is where we need the village! Instead we have TV and technology, hardly a good substitute for grandmothers and aunties is it? I hope the TV free time works out well for you. Thanks for taking the time to comment x

  2. You are right that technology is often a topic of discussion and can be divisive but we have to find the way that works for our own families. Our generation of parents is feeling our way on this one, particularly as many of us, including me, had little technology in their lives as children. Computers and mobile phones were almost unheard of when I was a child. We don't have a TV, I grew up without one. We have two iPads, a mini Mac and both my husband and I have a mobile phone but neither are smart phones. We have a digital projector and screen which we use to watch the occasional DVD and on demand documentaries from the BBC. We home educate so screens have the potential to be on all the time.....we limit the children to an hour a day to use how they wish, my eldest usually plays games my youngest programmes on CBeebies. We often watch documentaries as a family usually in the evenings after tea. My eldest has unlimited research time online. We have come to this arrangement after trying many different approaches and it is what works for us. Although some of their friends have their own tablets and games consoles they have never asked for them. I use the iPad or PC whenever I can fit it into the day. I am usually on it for a few minutes here and there, although longer if I am writing a blog post. They do see me using them but it is unavoidable as I am with them all the day. What I am trying to do is model good screen use ;)

    1. And you are so right that it is up to each of us to find a way that works for our own families and that we are definitely the generation of parents feeling our way with this! Sounds like you are navigating it with great intention and awareness. As always I take my hat off to you homeschooling mums, something I am just not cut out for! Thanks for sharing your experience with technology, I appreciate hearing your story. x

  3. My favourite part of all of this is the no technology before or after school FOR YOURSELF. We have that rule with O (she watches movies and/or abc2 on the weekends) but I think we'd all benefit from imposing it on Shane and I, also. I read an article recently that said our generation of parents are the last with a foot on either side - we were raised without this kind of technology, but we have it now and our kids will be the first to have had this kind of technology for their whole lives. How to navigate it becomes one of the biggest parenting challenges we face. It's not easy! Kellie xx


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