Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Parents As Examples With Devices & Technology

Above: Xbox in the pool
My last post on 'Why We Need to Bore Our Kids' seemed to strike a chord with many readers. This led to some helpful comments in response to the post. As I responded to some of the comments, and reflected on what I had written, I found myself reflecting on how as parents and teachers we need to exercise some level of guidance and control over our children's use of technology. Sometimes this can be VERY hard. Let me illustrate.

A mother in Sydney this past week got to the end of her tether with her children's use of the family Xbox. It seems that negotiating access to the Xbox led to many disputes about who went first, how long they could have and so on. Every parent should be able to relate to this if you have more than one child. With a history of problems and disputes she couldn't take it any longer. She pulled out all of the cables and leads, took the Xbox outside and threw it into their swimming pool. She was interviewed by Sydney radio and commented that it made her 'feel good' and that it was never coming back. Only time will tell if she gives in.

We also need to set a good example in relation to our own use of technology, social media, devices of all time and the way we use them. There is no doubt, that adults can also show an unhealthy attachment to their devices. In a lovely local park that has just been equipped with gym equipment I observe pretty much every day people using the equipment as a seat while they use their devices.

Above: The power of the device to distract & absorb
Let me offer some basic suggestions concerning parental control of devices, or technology time.

First, technology isn't bad! In fact, it offers us amazing opportunities to learn, communicate, elaborate, access resources and so on. But like anything it can be overused and abused.

Second, all parents need to establish some basic rules for use of technology at home (as do teachers at school).  These should cover:

a) how long they can use technology;
b) what you do and don't include in the family restrictions when you say 'technology' (e.g. TV, laptop, iPad, radio, phone etc.);
c) the purposes that they use it for (e.g. entertainment, schoolwork, fun, research, personal interest etc.);
d) Social; media like Facebook, Snapchat to be used at specified times during school weekdays (some parents have their children time this themselves);
e) No devices to be touched during shared family mealtimes (I know, some families have few, but this is a different problem);
e) What alternatives for technology use are acceptable.

Third, if things are out of control you do have two main options. You can try dramatic action (like the Mum, the Xbox and the swimming pool), but I think if you need to do this, the war has been lost. Having said this, as with many addictions (and some technology use can be one), going cold turkey is sometimes the best solution. But there will be painful adjustment consequences during 'withdrawal'. Alternatively, you can establish rules over time that place limits on access, and reward compliance when alternatives are explored. The latter will still be painful, but you can phase in some of your actions. For example, your rules might include:
  • iPhones in the cupboard after a specific time each night.
  • Tablets and computers only to be used for schoolwork in some specified hours of the day.
  • No facetime at all between specific hours.
  • Television only after all homework has been done.
  • All facetime (TV, phones, tablets etc) not to exceed a specified number of hours each week.
  • The home server or internet access to be timed to cut out at a specified hour.
  • Specific sites might also be banned or restricted for varied age groups.

Fourth, as parents you need to set an example. It's hard to be credible when telling your children to reduce technology time, if you demonstrate an obsession with devices and, for example, never put your phone down. Like many practices in families, parents need to set positive examples. We can be just as distracted as children. It should be 'do as I do', not simply 'do what I say'. The photo of the man in the park, sitting on gym equipment while on his phone, is a stark example of how we can be easily distracted by technology as adults, when better options are available. If our children see us being distracted, it is harder for us to rebuke them.

Summing up

We live in an age where technology allows us to do the most amazing things. This has transformed the ease with which we communicate, seek knowledge, explore our world, sustain and support relationships, learn languages, engage in many creative activities, become part of many communities of interest and practice locally and around the world. Devices and technology are not the problem, our lack of discipline and control of what we and our children do with them. I'd love to hear your perspective on how you deal with these issues.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Why We Need to Bore Our Kids

My title is meant to be outrageous, but I've also used it because I think it's also true!

We live in an age where children and adults alike never seem to stop! Rarely do we daydream, sit quietly on a park bench and stare into space, lie around at home resting on a wet day and so on. Lazing around does not seem easy in our driven lives. What's more, if there ever is a moment where we aren't confronting a task, conversation or activity, we reach for a device to help us fill this time with more activity. When there is a free moment, we often look to others or devices, to help us know how to use our time.

In one sense, dealing with bored children should be less of a problem than at any time in history, because it seems that there are endless things to do and many ways to use our time. But maybe, our children need to experience boredom? Might a lack of boredom be bad for our children?

What is boredom?

In essence, it is 'unmet arousal'. You are looking for something to do, or an activity to fill a space in your life, but you just can't motivate yourself to do something. Neil Burton suggests that there are many reasons for this:

"These reasons can be internal—often a lack of imagination, motivation, or concentration - or external, such as an absence of environmental stimuli or opportunities. So while you want to do something stimulating, you find yourself unable to do so;  moreover, you are frustrated by the rising awareness of your inability."1

What is significant about boredom is that it's a state that can be acted upon by the bored person. The typical bored child - who we have all experienced - will say, "I'm bored! What can I do?" Or, "Mum can you ... ". Note the onus is being placed on you as the parent to deal with their 'bored state'!

My simple answer to such situations is NOT to try to solve the problem, or simply give in and allow them to retreat to devices and more screen time. During times of boredom your children might just:
  • Find some new activities and interests
  • Lead them to use their imagination 
  • Offer opportunities to be creative
  • Assist them to develop mindfulness
  • Begin to enjoy the moment and their surroundings
However, you might just need to give them some prompts and help to get them started. Here are a few ideas.

How to respond to "Mum, I'm bored"?

At times, you should simply say, "what are you going to do then"? Don't feel that you need to solve the problem. Rather than always trying to solve the problem, it is often best simply to offer some prompts that will direct them towards possibilities. Here are some examples:

1. If it's a fine day, tell them to go outside, lie on their back and look at the sky, and think about 3 things that they might do. If it's bad weather suggest that they look out the window, what do you see? List ten things you can see. Draw one thing. Use one thing as a stimulus for a riddle or poem, "There was a ___  ___ in my yard, I didn't need to look too hard, but try as I might ...".

2. Suggest that they get a box (a shoe box works well) and go and find 5 things they would like to place in it that they could use, or do. This might lead children to put in a favourite toy, a game, crayons, craft materials, a book and so on. Ask them to consider one the thing they could do first. If you have more than one bored child, ask them to compare boxes and come up with a shared activity.

3. Give them a large cardboard box and ask them to consider what they might turn it into. Having a large cardboard box or two in your garage (perhaps in flat pack form) is a great resource. Perhaps a cubby, robot, space vehicle, animal and so on.

4. Suggest that they create a play to prepare and present to the family or some friends. You might help them to come up with some characters and a simple plot. For example, you might have a policeman, a dog, two children, and a school teacher. How can you create a story around these characters that you could present to others?

5. If the weather is fine, suggest that they devise a scavenger hunt, where 'treasure' is collected from the home (with your assistance) and which can then be hidden. The treasure could be edible, or treats of some kind. When the hunt is completed everyone shares the booty.

6. Why not create a family artistic mural, sculpture or map of the local community.

7. Alternatively, plan a photo frenzy (yes, I know a camera is a device, but it's special and only to be used for photos). You could come up with a list of things to photograph in your house and street and give them a time limit to hunt them down, photograph them and return. Give a prize (make it food and ensure it can be shared with everyone) for the most successful scavenger.

8. Or, why don't you suggest they create a board game around a specific theme. A simple game can be made in a race format, and with a dice and simple markers for each player. Use large pieces of cardboard and ask your children to choose their own theme and draw the squares or spaces that you progress through from start to finish (e.g. a car race, race around the world, quest for Mars, climbing Mt Everest etc). The game can have a simple format with spaces marked that can progress or retard the players. For example, in the space race, they could strike a meteor shower that forces them back home, or a time warp that accelerates their ship to another galaxy. Everyone should get to play the games at the end.

Summing Up

Boredom is NOT bad, it can drive children to explore new things, think creatively and move beyond the most common props in life today; screens and devices! Boredom can be used to prompt children to daydream, create, explore, imagine and play. Embrace it as a normal part of life and an opportunity, not just a problem. 

1. Neil Burton (2014), 'The Surprising Benefits of Boredom', Psychology Today'.