My relationship with technology fluctuates daily between love and hate.
I know I cannot survive without it, and at other times I wish it were not so integrated into our daily lives. When it comes to my boys (aged 2, 4, 6 and 8) I have tried many scenarios and combinations of what works and what does not, some ending in tears with them (or me).
I am not going to pretend that I was one of those mothers who did not let their children watch tv, play with phones or tablets. I needed it to keep them occupied and to keep me sane during some really trying times. With the boys being almost 2 years apart (18 months between #2 and #3), life is a perpetual roller coaster. I was spinning from the beginning. Also living in a city far away from my family and in-laws compounded the dependency on technology.
When I had the first 3, we were still living in our little apartment, our starter home. I did not have a nanny or a permanent domestic worker. I had a helper who came in maybe once or twice a week to do some cleaning for a few hours. There was even a period where I did not have a domestic worker and I was juggling a 2-year-old and a new-born. It was hard, and physically draining and in those crazy chaotic moments I needed a reprise for at least a little while. My 2-year-old would watch tv or play with the tablet and I would get maybe 20 minutes to just sit on the couch and catch my breath before I had to rush off to the next task. We lived in a second-floor apartment, we did not have our own garden, and to trek 2 little ones up and down flights of stairs to go out was exhausting at the best of times. So, you can see when our love affair with technology started. I would be so sleepy when I had to wake up in the middle of the night to breastfeed, that I needed something to keep me from falling back to sleep and I would browse my cell phone to stay awake. As I would be carrying the newborn trying to clean, cook and make sure we survived the day, my 2-year-old would be occupied on the tv or tablet.
When #3 arrived it was a circus, we had a new-born, an 18-month-old and a 4-year-old. What do you do? there is no way to keep control or create limits or boundaries. Everyday was survival, you did what you had to do to get through it.
#3 had just turned 1 and my husband and I decided we needed to move. The boys needed space, and we needed to be closer to good schools. We found the perfect space with everything I could ever dream of, a huge garden (ample running space for the boys to spend their energy), pool, jungle gym, trampoline, we did not have to leave home for any entertainment. I then fell pregnant with #4 and I could finally see the effect that technology had on the boys just by observing them even when they had the outdoor lifestyle at their disposal.
Fast forward to the arrival of #4, and again how on earth can you sanely manage a new-born, 2-year-old, 4-year-old and 6-year-old. There were going to be indulgences and free rein with TV and gadgets for at least the first few months. I mean it was literally the difference between some peace and me killing them!
As the months went by I noticed the dependency we all had on technology and it concerned me. My husband and I could not avoid it, it was necessary to his profession and mine as well. I have an Honours Degree in Information Systems Technology, so it is literally the air I breathed. I could change the boys’ habits though and I was adamant to do it. I saw how zoned out they would get in front of the tv, the mood swings when the screens were taken away, how they had to eat in front of a screen, it was crazy. My husband travels a lot, often works late hours and is back home only after the boys are asleep, so I had to do what I had to do on my own.
As new year’s resolutions go, most are not followed religiously, and some if at all! I needed to do this for the boys and for the family, so when the new year started I sat them all down and said there were going to be major changes going forward. I felt mentally and physically stronger when #4 was around a year and a half. I stopped breastfeeding just before he turned 2, and physically I think it is the strongest I have been in 8 years because I have either been breastfeeding or pregnant.
Right, back to the changes, I had to lay down the law. The tablet was to be taken away until further notice (it is now November and they have not had it since the beginning of the year). There will be no tv or games on the phone Monday – Friday. They will be allowed in moderation over the weekend. There will be no tv before school. They may borrow my phone to play games with but none of them will have their own tablet / phone until they can pay for one themselves. I have always stuck to that from the start though, they must share my tablet or phone, there is no exclusivity when it comes to devices.
So how was this taken by them? Not very well, it took about 2 weeks for them to be ‘re-programmed’ but I did it. It was hard, they would come home from school crying for their favorite shows or their games, they thought I would give in, but I did not. I stuck to it, and as the days went by they realised I was dead serious about this. I was also fearful about what I was going to do with them when they were not watching tv, but I slowly got over that as I watched them over the days. It was amazing, the transformation, it was as though I was discovering my children all over again. Given the chance they had developed so much. They found a new thirst for books and arts and crafts. They drew, painted and coloured, played outside for hours, made up games, and their absolute favourite, construction toys. Be it Lego, wooden blocks, Zoobs or anything that they could build, they loved it. They have even grown closer as brothers as they spend time playing games with each other. During summer they are in the pool about 3 times a day. I am so pleased that I decided to take this step. I notice it in their school writing, work in general and how they can write stories for creative class with ease.
Initially it was all doom and gloom for them, and me being accused of being a ‘horrible mother’ for not letting them watch or play electronic games, but they have begun to understand why I did it. They do not ask for tv during the week now, they know better than to. I have also explained the dangers of being online and strangers lurking behind computer screens. I do not think they are ever too young to explain about social media and what to share online, it is the same, I feel, as when you are teaching them the dangers of strangers in the big bad world.
At this point in our lives, this is where we are technology wise. My views now might be strict to some, but I believe its everyone’s preference on how they want to raise their children. Peer pressure among parents is also a concern. If a parent is allowing something for their child, they almost ‘shame’ you for not doing it and want to justify them doing so. Do not give in and stick to your guns.
I have rules for the boys which are going to remain until they are well into their teenage years or until I have deemed them responsible enough to handle. There will be no social media accounts what so ever, if there is anything they need to look up it will be through my account. They will not need individual devices and will share and use mine if I am not using it myself. They will not watch a tv channel freely as most content on kid’s channels are not even suitable, so we pre-record or select what they would like to watch (providing I approve) and save it for when they do watch over the weekend. They will not own a PlayStation / Xbox and I do not think it is even a necessary skill for them to have at this stage, when they are in their later high school years they can consider getting one but for now, it is a no. Technology is a privilege and not a right in my home.
They are allowed to watch tv and play electronic games over the weekend and school holidays, but they have to be earned. There needs to be general good behaviour and respect to us as parents and each other as brothers, they need to read or do school related work, do a little religious study work, use their construction blocks or bake, make their beds and tidy up the place.
I think in the end its important to instill habits that will carry them through an array of situations. They have developed problem solving skills, communication skills, reading ability, fine and gross motor skills. I have seen this evolve and develop over the months with restricted technology. Technology is and will be in our lives well into the future, so there is no escaping it, but we should use it responsibly and in moderation. Whilst I have the ability to control it when they are still young and their minds are malleable, I WILL!
I am a mum of 4 boys, navigating life, travel, school and bringing up children in this technologically filled era. I grow as the years pass, make mistakes, learn from them and hope to share these with my readers. We are all on this journey called Parenthood together and if we can help each other in any way, we should !
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