Calling Time On...'Screen Time' - The M Word

Calling Time On…’Screen Time’

Sometimes You Just Have A Really S*** Day
September 17, 2018
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September 17, 2018

Each time I get the urge to blog it seems to be in rant mode. Maybe it’s that I’m getting older and my patience for nonsense has worn thin. Or maybe it’s that the world is so full of bullshit sometimes that it’s all I can do to stop myself lying on the ground and having a full blown toddler tantrum at the idiocy of it all.

I’m a hippie at heart and would gladly frolic around the summer meadows in my harem pants and my Birkenstocks, with flowers in my hair, a touch of dewberry oil dabbed behind my ears, OM-ing til the cows come home, but alas and alack I cannot.

I spend time each day meditating and putting good intentions out into the Universe – I even have a tibetan bell app that chimes every hour to remind me to breathe, be in the moment and be grateful for all that I have (much to the amusement of my teenagers who think I have completely lost the plot and live in a parallel universe).

Most days I can let things go. As a working Mam, with five kids, I don’t have a lot of time to crusade against the ills that beset the world. I can be informed, and educate myself on what is happening in our ever changing world, but unless it affects my little corner of the world directly there is nothing for me to do, but worry – so I chose to let it go.

There are certain universal cock-ups however, that I cannot release into the ether and children and screen time is one of them. Even the term ‘screen time’ makes my skin prickle. How American we have become in our view of the world. The fact that we even consider ‘screen time’ as a thing we must negotiate with our children is mind boggling. Well, to me it is. Am I alone?

Scientific studies have shown that exposure to ‘screens’ before the age of two can cause permanent developmental damage. Over exposure – which is what we are allowing to happen – in children between the ages of eight and eighteen has been linked to sleep, behavioural and educational problems not to mention obesity and ill health. Am I the only one reading these facts and thinking ‘holy shit batman we’d better address this issue before our kids die!?’

Now before all the tech gurus get medieval on my ass – I am not a troglodyte. I understand the importance of being able to use technology in this mental, mega computer that we call the world. So teach science and technology, but leave Snapchat and YouTube until kids have had a chance to grow up and experience a little of what the real world has to offer.

The art of conversation, the joy of imagination, the ability to solve problems, family interaction, empathy, human emotion – all of these are being eroded and destroyed by allowing our kids to have unfettered access to tablets and devices before they are in their teens.

Parents are giving into commercial pressure and buying phones and devices for kids as young as six. I mean, WTF is that all about!! I would presume that little six year Johnny or Mary are generally not off on their own around town with the need to call Mammy for a lift?

Let’s be honest here – when you buy a device for a six year old you are just trying to keep them quiet and out of your way – which I can understand believe me, but I’d rather boot them out the door and tell them to go play until it’s time for dinner. Children should be allowed to be children. To be allowed to play and learn like we did without the pressures of the outside world being foisted on them when they are ill equipped to cope with any of it.

My childhood and that of my friends was one of playing – outside preferably and well out of sight of our parents who, if they spotted us, would inevitably find us some chore or other to do. Hence we hightailed it out the door as quick as we could and returned only when we were dying of hunger or at risk of bladder explosion.

I got my first mobile brick when I was twenty three and I survived my entire secondary and university years with no access to the internet, no home computer, laptop or smart TV. If I needed to meet someone we called each other and made arrangements. If I had a problem I talked to my friends. If I needed to find something out I went to the library, found a book, read the relevant section and took notes.

When I explained this to my fifteen year old daughter recently she almost fainted with shock and looked at me with a mixture of pity and horror. Hers is a generation that relies on their smartphones to tell them how to walk, talk, dress – how to be. They can find the answer to absolutely anything by pressing a few buttons. They have no use for libraries when they carry the brain of the universe in their hands. They also seem to have no use for their own brains and seem to me to have lost the capacity to formulate opinions or ideas without first asking Siri, Google, Wiki or all their friends on snapchat.

I kept technology from my daughter and her two older brothers until they had left primary school and were in their teens. I have two younger children (10 and 7) who I will apply the same rules to and maybe even push the limits a little bit further and try to keep them from the dreaded screen for a few years beyond the beginning of their teens. (I think maybe the reason I had five children is that I knew I would make a balls of the first few, but could at least redeem myself with the youngest.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. We too have an iPad and a TV and a laptop and don’t, as some of you may think, live in a lantern-lit cave, all dressed in hemp and singing Kumbaya around the fire. But we do have rules and standards. No technology for the smallies during the week (by this I mean the iPad – we don’t have gameboys, tablets, playstations, xboxs – thanks be to Zeus), no phones at the dinner table, no phones in the sitting room when we are all cosied up to watch a movie.

I’m no saint either and I break every so often and can be seen hurtling the iPad at my smallies on a Wednesday afternoon when I just need an uninterrupted ten minutes to drink the cup of tea I made at 7:30am. I am also guilty of submitting to their requests to watch TV at 6:00am on a Saturday morning – I would allow them to snort coke off a rhinoceros’s arse if it gave me ten more minutes in bed at the weekend.

But I’m trying my best. And not for the title of housewife / mother of the year (although if ye want to nominate me I won’t say no). The world is crazy enough and hard enough without making it worse for our children. Giving them devices is not good parenting. It’s dangerous, replacement parenting which is robbing our children of their childhood. There are 940 Saturdays between a child’s birth and them heading off to University (Google does have it’s uses!). So tell me this … how do you want your children to spend those Saturdays? Using their imaginations, growing, playing, being healthy, having fun? Or zombie-eyed, staring at a screen.

The power is in your hands, not theirs. So use it wisely. xx

Deborah Ní Ghibne
Deborah Ní Ghibne
Deborah Ní Ghibne lives in the wilds of Connemara, with her husband and five children. She is a script writer for the Irish Language TV series Ros na Rún, but has huge aspirations to become a world famous, disgustingly wealthy, uber cool author. A born procrastinator with sluggish self motivation (coupled with 5 children and two jobs), has lead to Deborah taking over forty years to actually put pen to paper, but the novel is well under way – so watch this space.