This isn't the first article on the subject of technology and its influence on family life. I'm pretty sure that it won't be the last either. It's an emotive subject, make no bones about it. Many parents have huge concerns about their children's growing use of games consoles, mobile phones and tablets. In the run-up to the festive season, the Facebook status updates that provoked the most debate were those that read: "My child wants the latest technological gadget for Christmas - should we go ahead and get him it?" Cue a barrage of comments spanning a variety of differing parental viewpoints.
I'm going to start out with my usual disclaimer: This article is not going to preach about how much or how little you should be letting your children use technology. We have several devices in our household - it's certainly not a technology free zone. Instead, I want to explore how the average family can find the right 'technology balance' for them...
Two recent situations prompted me to look hard at our own family's technology use:
During a recent short break at a well-known family friendly resort, I couldn't help but be saddened by the situation in the evenings. The hotel had a lovely spacious lounge area, which many families retired to after dinner. Despite the fact that there was musical entertainment, most families took to the sofas with their iPads or game consoles for the kids. Often, both adults had their mobile phones out. There was no conversation. There was no engagement with other families. And no-one really looked as though they were enjoying themselves that much. Since family holidays represent precious time together, I found the scenario quite distressing.
Even closer to home, hubby and I were becoming guilty of letting our own family's technology use creep gradually upwards. We have an iPad that is used by all the family with separate folders for children's apps (educational and fun). My daughter, who is rapidly approaching double figures, has an iPod Touch (saved for with her own money and bought second-hand from eBay). Somewhere along the lines, our original rules about the use of these had fallen by the wayside. The kids were spending more and more time wrapped up in their favourite apps and we were spending less and less time playing board games, chatting or even watching movies together as a family.
And so we decided it was time to re-introduce and reinforce the old rules. Time spent on iPads and iPods would be limited - and permission would need to be asked first. Both devices would be stored in communal areas, so that there was no skulking off to bedrooms on the pretext of doing something else. My husband and I agreed that we would make a greater effort to stay away from our mobile phones while we were eating, talking or playing as a family. We realised that we'd become a little like the parents we described above - taking out our phones at the end of a meal just to check the weather, then getting caught up in emails while the kids copied our anti-social example.
|Keep iPads and iPods in communal areas|
And that's why in the future I'll try not to criticise anyone else's approach to technology. Because it's such a difficult issue. And it is oh-so-easy to let your own standards slip. And children, as they grow older, have changing needs. And - an important point - technology is not all evil. Many schools use educational apps and some homework is now done online. On visiting our local library today, I discovered that iPads are available for use there by the general public too. Technology allows us to access and share some amazing information. To divorce our children from that completely would not be doing them a favour - technology is an important part of our world and will have a continuing influence on all of our lives. (Consider this: The US Department of Labour reports that 65% of today’s grade school kids will end up at a job that has not yet been invented. Scary stuff, eh?)
So what happens when we get it wrong? When we agree to a game that we later feel is unsuitable? Or we want to cut back the time our children spend on these devices?
In our average household, we decided to pay attention to our gut feeling. If it makes you uncomfortable, chances are that it's not right for your family. So cut the time back. Take the game away. Brace yourself and say the words: "I'm sorry, we were wrong to allow you to have that. We made a mistake. This has to stop."
There will be tantrums, there will be tears. But if it doesn't feel right to you, chances are that it isn't right for your children either.
How does your family handle technology? Let me know if you've found a balance that works for you.