Monday, 1 October 2012

Everyday Life On A Shoestring - Unplugged?

As the nights draw in, and the possibilities for outdoor activities become more limited, I'm very aware that all my family need to monitor their screen time. 


On a rainy day, if left unchecked, Son will meander from TV, to Play Station, to games on the PC, and Daughter has just become the proud owner of a cheap-as-chips mobile phone which opens up the opportunity for endless inane 'text' conversations with her friends and hours of trying out different ring tones and downloading music. As a blogger, I can easily slip down the electronic rabbit hole too; hopping from blog to blog to read the latest adventures of my bloggy friends and their friends and their friends' friends and their friends' friends' friends...And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

Such is life in the 21st century, and the benefits for learning, networking and social change are enormous.

However, I wouldn't be doing my job as an advocate of 'frugal simplicity' if I didn't make the case for some balance!

In the course of my work with adolescents, it's a case that's being made by the experts more and more.  Teenage sleep disorders are on the up and digital technology has increased the opportunity for relational aggression (covert bullying), especially amongst girls. In the kids' 'social and emotional skills' programme that I work on, the learning of relaxation techniques and the encouragement of daily 'unplugged' time has become an important aspect. 


As you'll remember I discovered the off-screen (that's the big screen) work of Goldie Hawn, earlier this year. I mentioned her here, and she got her own blog post here! In her book 10 Mindful Minutes, she devotes a short section to 'Technology and the Brain', where she discusses the downfalls of the 'butterfly brain' or diminishing attention span, that modern technologies foster. With the plethora of information that is out there we probably all have a tendency to skim, rather than to attend fully.  

"Technology can cause addiction, burnout, and sleep problems, and people need to reflect on how they use it to ensure it doesn't become a problem". (Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, from the Capio Nightingale Hospital, London in 10 Mindful Minutes).

In all honesty, I can't say that we have a happy balance between the virtual and non-virtual at all times here, but here are some of the ways we try:



  • We cover the computer up with an old cushion cover! Our computer sits in the middle of the home, which is good because the adults can keep an eye on what the children are up to, but that means it has a strong allure. We are walking past it all the time.  Covering it up is a simple thing, but "out of sight" really is "out of mind", and it's a bit of a nuisance to get the cover off which provides obstacle enough sometimes

  • When people are spending too much time in front of a screen, 'snacking' on their gadgets, or there are fights about whose turn it is, then the timer comes out. This sometimes has a reverse psychology effect - being forced to have a half hour block of time makes it less appealing! I know other friends have a 'time-out' operation in place where the computer is programmed to log off after a certain amount of time, but we don't need that here yet.
  • We try and make sure that we all have a healthy balance of activities in the mix; sport, exercise of any sort, reading, music-making. When Son wanted to upgrade his Diabolo juggling sticks in the summer, Husband didn't hesitate to buy them for him, saying, "I don't mind paying for something that will get him outdoors and doing something!" And in those terms, it was a good investment.

  • It's not only Son; we all try to get outside often. As Goldie says, "In logging off, taking our child's hand, and wandering outside to stare dreamily at the clouds or explore the backyard, we encourage creativity and imagination as well as enhance well-being. More and more studies are finding that a return to nature is an efffective and simple antidote to technological addiction and its detrimental consequences. It gives us the mental freedom to recalibrate our senses and refresh our minds."
  • Lastly, the adults try to set a good example. After all, "To authentically teach someone, it's helpful also to be a student of the techniques yourself. Your child will learn best through your example and modeling." (Linda Lantieri, MA, in 10 Mindful Minutes).
Do you 'unplug' enough? How do you keep a handle on your kids screen-time? If you have any top tips I for one, could certainly use them!

And if you'd like to hear more of Goldie Hawn, she was on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs recently, choosing her favourite 8 tracks of music to take to a desert island. Click on the link to hear the programme which is on BBC iplayer until Friday.


12 comments:

  1. It sounds like you have a nice balance between screen-time and other activities. I like the timer idea. I sort of do the same thing with my son. He will watch a 20 minute TV shows and once it's done, TV time is OVER.

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  2. I find the best thing for me and my family, is to plan things that take us out of the house, or at least busy us enough that we don't have time for electronics, a couple of days per week (usually the entire weekend). Saturdays we usually go somewhere or participate in a project as a family (this Saturday we spent a good deal of the day harvesting and processing plums from our tree -- it really took all hands to do it all. And no one had time all day to turn on a computer.) The first half of Sundays are filled with church, family lunch and some activities around the house. Late afternoon and evening opens up time to go online. It's a mini vacation of sorts, to unplug.

    The other fun thing we did on Saturday evening was to light a single candle and turn off the lights. We did this to see what it was like after dark, but before bedtime for our ancestors. No one wanted to leave the spot with the candle for a few hours. We just sat and talked. I plan on suggesting this again another Saturday evening.

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  3. great post; and one that tugs at most parent's heartstrings I should think. I'll celebrate the good stuff first - we are TV free and until my daughter decided to go to school (we home educated) at age 8 she never watched anything apart from the odd DVD with us; she hated computers and wouldn't go near them although we work from home and use them all the time.

    Now the rubbishy part. When she started school she asked for an ipod that Christmas. We said yes and it was the worst mistake we made. She was totally addicted from day 1. I figured she'd find a balance that the novelty would wear off but it didn't. She got into Iplayer on the computer and couldn't regulate her intake - it was very addictive for her. So I had to put boundaries in place (I let her go for a year unchecked, really believing she's find an equilibrium which she didn't). So now it's an hour after school (of any screen she chooses) as much as she likes on a Saturday(someimtes that is literally all day but most of the time she goes out with friends and doesn't think TOO much about it) and no screens at all on Sundays.

    FOr the past two weekeneds I have personally unplugged. And I've felt lousy each time - I think I'm realising I'm addicted too and I don't stop so my body is at last breathing a sigh of relief and talking to me...

    We've done the candle thing too and it's just lovely, but DD still gets pulled by the shiny screens. I'm just glad we don't have a TV too!!

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  4. Thank you for sharing your experiences and and ideas. I like the candle idea and the no-screen Sunday idea. It's clearly hard for all of us to relinquish technology, even for a short time but we have to be mindful of our useage for our own sanity! I like to remind myself that only 11 short years ago, we had neither TV nor computer in our house, and were certainly no less well-informed or entertained, thanks to BBC Radio.

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  5. When my kids were younger, we decided on how much screen time we thought was right and used a timer. When they got older, it was harder to regulate because most of their homework involved the computer--either word processing or the internet.

    As a family, we could all use less screen time. The only way we're successful at that is to have a definite other activity in mind.

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    1. We're already finding that homework provides an excuse to get plugged in!

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  6. I am now a grandmother, but my boys were very active outdoors, even in the worst of weather. I provided them with their own tool boxes and plenty of roofing nails (for their friends' safety) and would find them building with fallen timber any number of things. We lived with plenty of open space, so they had woods, empty fields and streams not to mention the lake here to explore in. Cell phones were dominant at the time so that wasn't a problem.

    As for the TV, we lived a ways out of town and so only received 2 channels clearly. I refused to pay for cable (no satellite at the time) so that regulated how much they watched as there wasn't much of interest to them on most times.

    Now I spend time with little ones again, most regularly the two 4 year old grand children. Today was a cold and rainy day so we stayed inside and worked on crafts, read books and played games most of the day. I live right by the lake so we have the beach, open fields, the gardens and plenty of playgrounds we visit.

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    1. That all sounds very healthy, and how lucky your children and grandchildren were and are to have access to such great outdoor spaces. I can tell from your blog that your grandchildren must love spending time at their Grandma's house!

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  7. I have to add this. I was driving down the highway this morning, when I glanced to the right to see the gas station. There were TV screens on the pumps for gas. Do we really need media that much that we can't go 5 minutes without the TV, while pumping our gas?

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    1. Now that is completely bonkers! I guess they've worked out that the amount of time it takes to fill a car up is perfect for a couple of ads for something or other...crazy!

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  8. Having 4 teenagers who are all live for the cyber world, we have had to draw up limits and times. Left to their own choices (more so the boys) would roll out of bed on their xbox's only leaving the screen for meals or toilet breaks. In the school holidays i soon noticed an increase in the amount i had to top up on electric. So yes we too now have times and limits much to the disappointment of the teens :-/

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    1. Hi Kim, interesting to hear that you have recognised the same problem and put limits in too. I'm sure that your teens are disappointed, but you never know, they might thank you one day! After I wrote that blog post there were some reports on BBC news about the very same issue, particularly focusing on the impact too much screen-time has on the brain. It affects the production of dopamine, which can result in screen addiction; there are growing numbers of children with this problem. Because screen time is not perceived as a 'risky' activity the dangers have been largely ignored so far, but I think it's something about which we will start to hear more and more. I think you really are doing the best thing for your kids!

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