Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Screen: Part II The Strategies (or the Yoga of Screen)

There are many approaches to managing our children's screen use (TV, computer, phone, tablet, etc). It would be great if it were easy to have blanket solutions but the fact is that strategies apply differently to different children and to different cultural and family culture dynamics, so there is no fix-all solution. Well, unless you throw the damn things out the window which is tempting at times but then I realise I'd have to throw out my smart phone as well and a revealing conundrum emerges (to be discussed in a later blog).  The take-away lesson is to strategically set a good example in your own screen management and this will pave the way for easier management of your children's access to screens; get your own screen under control first, visibly and transparently before embarking on any campaign to help the kids. Where there is a Mum and Dad or live in relative or friend... its helpful if all are on the same 'setting a good example' page and if their School is on board as well... it is much easier! We are blessed to have the same philosophy as parents and here in Nepal to have neighbors with two same age, same school, sons who share the same 'screen philosophy' as us. By contrast if they didn't, it would be a nightmare.

I want to add a caveat here that for the past 4 years TV has not been on the family menu of screen choices so we aren't afflicted by the problematic of TV addiction. We simply do not subscribe to cable/satellite or other connections to commercial television. This was not hard to do given our mobility and disdain and understanding of the distraction from real life that TV provides. It has been a great move for all. Gone is pervasive (sometimes intelligence insulting) television advertising, gone the insidious brain numb of cartoon crap and cartoon violence, the detached and detaching channel surfing, etc and yes, as adults we aren't passing time watching what are inevitably just trendy flash in the pan series or sitcoms. If there is a downside it is that we sometimes miss inspirational moments in sports or catching significant world events... but we can catch up with these with a quick bit of googling post event! The other day someone mentioned the Oscar's...I didn't even realise the Academy Awards had happened but now have bought Oscar winning films, Boyhood, Whiplash, Still Alice, Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman. These days I don't even think the boys miss out on popular culture, I did years ago when Zaki came home from Montessori school in Malaysia asking who Mickey Mouse was, but those days are long gone.  They seem to catch up through friends and watch selectively on YouTube various series if they are curious. In Nepal where we live, we can't get Netflix with a Nepali credit card and so our aging flat-screen TV is used for viewing DVDs and the Wii only. Our boys are 8 and 10 have lived as expatriate children in Malaysia, Lebanon, Ecuador and now Nepal, they are multilingual, multicultural third culture kids and basically want for nothing such is their luck (or not)!

Worth mentioning here is that I am grateful for everything I have; perhaps living in a very poor country like Nepal having traveled and lived large and fully on different levels of the poverty-decadence scale from cold poverty in wintry Montreal (although I did meet Leonard Cohen because of it!) to prosperity jet-setting as a humanitarian emergency aid worker, perhaps I am less likely to take for granted what I have. I don't know, I just know we are very lucky to have all of what we have; our good health and the luxury to discuss things like screen time because we have that choice... How many zillions of Syrian or Palestinian or Congolese kids would die to have a tablet device? In the case of screens and the internet we express that gratitude through a principled approach to access. The boys know that their access to screens is a privilege and not a right. Zaki tried to convince me not long ago that screen time was a basic human right, they had been discussing human rights at school.... I said 'oh, like food and water? you can't live without it?', that gave him something to think about.

Back to is good for children to realise that your efforts as caregivers to 'manage' their screen time is in their best interest, and that needs un packaging in terms they can understand vis a vis the whys and wherefores and it is useful to reframe this for them often where repetition can be a bore, saying it differently under differing circumstances can help click things into frame. Below are some links to help flesh this out if you had any doubts. Please be clear, no one is saying there isn't value in children's access to smart devices (children over 5 years old because they are not advised at all for kids below 5) and all of what they have to offer. The question is how it is delivered to them, with what conditionality and how to optimize it to their benefit. I used to say the same about TV... and now of web connected smart devices... ask yourself... would you just hand your kid the remote control of a TV without some restrictions and information on the potential hazards of use!

Sleep and tests.
Sleep and device dependency.
Smartphones and sleep
Kids, smartdevices and sleep

Never forgetting that children's brains develop in their sleep and they grow physically when they sleep, so sound, long sleep is a key issue in screen management.

Steve Jobs and iPads
Related article on the importance of Playtime

Next in strategies:  We find it useful for our children to realise that these limits on screen are not just their Mum and/or Dad's blahblahblah, they need to know that it is a 'global' discussion i.e. their friend's parents grapple with the same thing (hopefully) no matter what country they are from or where they live. Kids need to see the plethora of websites talking about this, show them this one! One of the best websites that is all over this is Common Sense Media and its new 'Parent's Concerns' tab which covers a range of issues from 'how much screen time' to cyberbullying to internet security, online learning and beyond. Well worth the visit. I showed this to our boys and they read the inputs from parents and other kids so they know that this isn't an issue only for us...its out there in the world.

Screening content is something we are very clear on. Family filters on browsers is a must and are easy to activate or install. Anything new that they want to watch, download, play, etc has to be 'screened' (filtered) and the best tool I have found online is again Commonsense Media and if it isn't listed there then critiques gaming and is also okay offering an age rating for IOS games. At the end of the discussion it is more about how you feel as a parent, how much 'cartoon violence' for example you can tolerate (I draw the line at those stupid zombie games). Its like movie ratings... the best judge of appropriateness is you, aligning with your own values and understanding of your child's maturity and ability to absorb content....and lets be honest whether a movie will give them nightmares and cause you to lose sleep or not!

Now to the restrictions. Here everyone differs and the balance is between allowing kids the ability to make their own wise choices and learning about these and being a conscious and responsible caregiver. Screen time seems to be a determinant factor and so we limit it. Without limits what we have learned for our boys (is it different for girls?) that they will spend too much time on screen or at least not enough time playing outside or with lego or whatever else and their addictive behaviours increases.  This is perhaps the most annoying thing when you realise they are living for their screen time and manipulating you to ensure they get time to be on screen. Our boys are responding well to the following:

1hr/Friday and 2hrs/Saturday
Screen free Sunday
No screen ever in bedrooms
No screen ever after dinner (except family movies)
No TV (except DVD movies usually as a family)
No unsupervised screen at home or away

There are other strategies like minute banks, timers on devices, screen time tracking, etc. See here for other ideas. One method we don't use is screen-time for reward or punishment, or use it to bribe...that is going down a dangerous and wobbly way that is hard to sustain and sends wrong messages, the pros and cons are discussed here

As I suggest above, each to their own and their own priorities, considerations and thoughts on the matter. No judgement. My intention is to provoke thinking, encourage researching the issue to be able to make informed choices and to involve children fully in decisions taken. There is no black and white....only shades of grey and navigating the waters takes some time but mostly a connection with what for you and your family makes for a harmonious and harmless living situation that provides the best for your children. Maybe call it the Yoga of Screen: how to find balance.

Please post comments below especially strategies you might have succeeded with for everyone to see. Thanks. d

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