13 May Parenting With Screens: Making Tech Invisible at Home
My wife and I have a new rule in our household: we don’t look at our devices in front of our kids. This wasn’t always the case. Although we have always kept technology out of the hands of our kids (the only time they get an iPad is on an airplane) we always felt free to use our devices ourselves, even when the kids were around.
For most of our children’s early childhood, I would be regularly staring down at a screen. Maybe I was reading a book on my kindle app, or downloading music to practice on my guitar, reading the news, catching up on social media, or staying connected to the office. This is the great (and terrible) thing about mobile technology, there is always something to be done.
We did have a “no devices at the table” rule. But there always seemed to be exceptions to the rule. After all, it is hard to have a dinner conversation nowadays that doesn’t relate to something online. Maybe it was a funny story or video that we saw, a question that we needed to google the answer to, or a schedule or weather forecast that needed to be consulted. There is always a good reason for the phones to find their way into our hands, even when we’re at the dinner table.
I was motivated to make a change when my 7-year-old son expressed an interest in a little game called Rider. He had played it on a friend’s device and he asked me if I would download it. I did download it, not so my son could play it, but so I could see what kinds of games my son was getting into when I wasn’t around. The game is pretty harmless and fun, but very addictive.
One day, my son was looking over my shoulder while I was looking at my phone and he saw that I had Rider on the phone. His eyes lit up with excitement. From that day forward, my son’s relationship with my phone changed dramatically. Every time I pulled out my phone, he wanted to be near it. And he was constantly begging and pleading to be allowed to play Rider. The breaking point was one day when we were at the beach. This is a normal weekend activity for us. But this time it was different. My son refused to play in the sand or the sea and couldn’t enjoy the beach, he could only point at the bag where my phone was and plead with me to be given access.
Of course I said no. “We will never play video games when we are out at the beach,” I explained. But I knew this wasn’t enough. The phone had to disappear. So I went home and discussed with my wife who, being far less addicted to technology than I am, was only too happy that I had seen the light. So we set course on a new path: we would keep our devices hidden from our kids.
As a result we have to use all kinds of ancient ‘single-function’ artefacts to get things done in front of the kids, analogue cameras, wristwatches, alarm clocks – books! To be clear, it’s not that we don’t use mobile technology . . . we do. We just try to hide it as much as possible in the house. If we need to look something up, or send a text or an email, or anything else on a device, we have to slip away into another room. My kids might wonder why their parents are spending a lot more time in the bathroom now! But we get done what we need to get done and when we come out we are more present. It seems to work for us.