So my fourteen year old son pulled an all nighter on his computer.  He is not the first child and no doubt he won’t be the last. Even my generation tried that on.  Pah, who didn’t try and hide their portable black and white tv with the dodgy aerial under the bed covers after lights out?   He has this habit.  The same habit as many.  Mum goes to sleep.  Mums get tired.  Son gets back out of bed and puts his computer on.

6am in the morning.  I hear the click of the keys coming from his bedroom.

“Have you been asleep at all last night?” I asked.

“Yes, of course I have.” He fibbed.

“Are you sure?” I rub my temples. Noting his tired face. “You’re never up this early.”

“I’m missing my sister.  She’s back today.” He fibbed once again.

He never misses his sister that much.  He normally does anything he can to avoid her.

He’s never up at 6 am.  He’s a teenage boy.  Teenage boys sleep and my teenage boy is no exception. Well they sleep the day away if they’re given the chance.  Sleep the day away and don’t want to sleep at night.

“Right, off the computer.” I order.  He knows he’s got no choice.  I drink my coffee, he goes back to bed and I go to a car boot for a couple of hours.  I picked up a great door curtain for just £2 – another job, waiting to be done.

I got in and he was still sleeping.  We’re two weeks into the holiday and screen time is driving me potty.  A constant battle.  The average child having access to 7 devices.  So different to when I was a child (1980’s kid) and we had the telly  with limited childrens programmes during limited hours.  A Sega Mega drive shared amongst the entire family and videos when the parents could afford them.  Kids today have so much technology and my children are no exception.  They don’t have to share with each other as they have a lot.

So first week of the hols.  We went on holiday.  No wifi so the kids had no technology.  24 hours they went cold turkey and were grumpy.  But after the 24 hours I found their personality’s had resurfaced and their souls were no longer on their hard drives or in cyber space.  Their faces looking much more relaxed and they became human as they began living reality and not virtual reality.  Second week of the hols, I’m busy with appointments and washing and unpacking.  The kids got back into their old habits.  I’m now on week 3 and enough is enough.  We can’t have 4 more weeks living online.

I know I’m not alone with my concerns for my sons cyber addiction.  Many parents are in the same boat.  Children wanting to spend all day either on laptops, tablets, computers, phones or game machines.  Cyber addiction is serious.  It releases the same chemicals into the brain that are released into the brain of gamblers.

Enough is enough.

So I woke him up, by hoovering his bedroom and banging a few pans. Harsh I know but I wasn’t up for a repeat performance and gently coaxing him out of bed with an explanation would never have worked. Gave him his lunch and sent him and his siblings to the park.  Alone.  Time to give me time to think.  How to break the screen time.

We know as parents that children spend too long on devices.  We don’t need experts to tell us that they spend too long.  We think about the impacts on our children’s wellbeing in the long term – but we don’t need preaching at.  We know.  But for many of us, if we’re honest.  Devices are easy.  We’re getting on with jobs, they’re on the device.  We’re having an off day, they’re on the device.  Maybe while working in the holidays they’re on their devices. Lots of children, we don’t have more than one pair of hands – they get on those devices.  Poorly parents they’re on devices.  No two households are the same.  So devices are not up for judgement.  We lose control because we can’t be in two places at once, we’re not super human and before we know it, they’ve spent the entire time on the device.  Here are some ways I’ve thought of to encourage our children to get off their devices.

Younger children are generally easier to control on the devices.  Children from 7 – 12 need more coaxing.  Teenagers it’s practically impossible – they need a push.  Many of us don’t have oodles of money or time to take them out constantly.

  1. Drop the teenagers at the swimming pool – passes time, you don’t have to be there unless you want a swim yourself.
  2. Look at the jobs that you have to do around the garden.  Perhaps they can help you paint a fence or chop the hedge.  The family who plays together stays together.  The family who does jobs together bond together.  Encouraging team work.  They’re going to grumble.  Let them grumble but get a job done.
  3. Send them out of the house.  They might complain they’re bored.  But give them the gift of boredom.  We had boredom as children, boredom gave us initiative skills.  My son told me he was bored. I replied “boring people are bored, find some excitement.” Of course you might want to help with this by giving a few props or suggestions.
  4. When you go shopping, take them shopping.  If they complain.  Give them a choice.  Go shopping or go outside.  Obviously that’s more applicable to teenagers.
  5. Similarly when you go to the corner shop, take them with you, they might grumble but even at work we’re told to take regular breaks from our screens.
  6. If they’ve spent a long time on their devices.  Take them out for a walk.  Walks cost nothing and it’s great time for them to chat.  Time together.
  7. Go out for the afternoon.  Leave the phones at home.  Keeps the grown ups off them too.  We know we’re just as guilty.  And yes there is the saying “Do as I say, not as I do.”  But it’s good for us too.  Builds up the interaction.  Forces our attention where it should be.
  8. On the car journey, ditch the devices.  There is nothing up with windows or a game of eye spy.  It’s old, it’s retro, they’ll grumble, argue, maybe drive you mad.  But should we really be interfering with communication.  Even grumbling and arguing is communication, it’s how we all learn.  It’s not always about having an easy journey.
  9. Back to retro.  Invest in retro games.  Board game after dinner.  You’ll be surprised how quickly they stop grumbling and start enjoying something new.
  10. Bikes, rollerboots, swing ball, badminton sets.  Most have something in the shed or garage.  Get them outside regular.
  11. Books.  Encourage reading or hobbies such as drawing or photography.  Again, it’s getting children outside, it’s taking them away from devices.

I know I’m not alone with children addicted to the screen.  I hear the children chatting and laughing at the computer screens.  Their friends are all doing exactly the same.  But like I say, no two families are the same and families face many challenges.  And we’re not going to get rid of devices all together.  So it’s just about breaking that day up.  Computers and games are fun for children, it’s the way we have evolved.  But sometimes I have concern that the generations are moving us forward so that the film ‘Idiocracy’ where life is ruled by virtual reality and energy drinks becomes reality.  We don’t need the experts to tell us this.  We just need to coax our children to get off the devices as much as we can.  So they don’t look back at childhood and remember nothing but graphics and communicating via Skype.

Final tip:

If you have a child pulling technology all nighters.  Work out how to turn off the electrics to their bedroom sockets.  It worked for us last night.  I don’t doubt that when my son tries that trick again.   He’ll be dumbfounded.  Why won’t the computer just switch on?