A WEEK ago, I decided the family had to disconnect to connect.
My addiction to my electronic devices has spilled over to the children. It is my fault, I admit. I have allowed tablets and smartphones to pacify my girls and to keep them entertained while I do work (or zap carrots off Farm Heroes) on my iPad.
Now, before you arch that eyebrow of yours, let me tell you that I know I am not the only one doing this.
Recent figures have revealed that one in three toddlers use a gadget before they can even talk and tablets and phones are now an alternative to TV.
So what induced me to go on a ‘digital detox’?
My husband took a picture of all of us at the dinner table the other night. Each of us were glued to our respective devices. What I saw in that picture was a scenario I vowed would not happen in my household.
The next day, I hid the iPads from the girls.
Naturally, they asked for it and I told them that we were on a ‘digital detox’. I made it sound like an adventure of some sort. My eldest girl was not impressed.
“Can I watch TV?”
I replied that we would rid ourselves for a few hours, every day, of gadgets, TV and the computer.
My youngest, (who we suspect is going through her terrible twos), was not amused either.
“iPak mama. iPak!”
For the first few hours, I was very tempted to return their gadgets. The eldest kept coming to my desk asking me what I was doing and rearranging my books and stationery, only to mess it up again. The youngest was getting fidgety, moving from one corner of the room to the other, throwing her toys, demanding that she be given the iPad.
I read online that these are some of the early warning signs that electronic devices have started to have more influence over behaviour than anyone or anything else.
For instance, children start getting distressed when technology is removed from them. (I noticed this with my daughters, even when the WiFi is down at our house, and they can’t get access to the Internet).
According to Dr Richard Graham, a consultant adolescent psychiatrist from the Capio Nightingale Hospital, when your child starts displaying signs of severe distress and agitation after being separated from technology, then we know that there is an unhealthy dependence. This can impact your child’s sleep, interfere with meal times and eating habits as well as make them ‘act up’ during play time.
So what can we do?
Dr Graham recommends a 72-hour ‘digital detox’. The first few hours will be difficult — BELIEVE ME, but it will get better.
Try to ignore the pleas for technology and distract your kids with other activities.
I used board games like Ludo and ‘snakes & ladders’, besides reading and playing hopscotch. And then I got a modern version of the congkak and had a blast with the girls reliving my childhood. We even made our own batu seremban or small hand-sewn pillowed squares stuffed with rice, and I taught the girls how to make new dresses with paper dolls. Remember those? Paper dolls!
Secondly, it was very important that my husband and I showed a good example to the children.
Admittedly, without my smartphone, I felt a bit lost but I got the hang of it eventually. I went to the kitchen and started going back to reading recipes from a real cookbook; not just by ‘googling’ it.
I also made sure no smartphones and tablets were allowed at the dinner table or in the car.
It was then that I saw the scar on Isobel’s chin which I had never noticed before and learnt she hurt herself after swimming. I noticed Iman was able to use both hands to hold the spoon to feed herself. I felt horrible. How did I, a work-from-home mum, not see or know of all this?
Establishing a maximum daily time allowance is a good place to start. Dr Graham suggests that iPads and phones not be used before bedtime and kept in a different room overnight, to stop children from using the devices before, during and after sleep.
Recently, I started seeing a huge difference; they weren’t as agitated and they were kinder to each other. Isobel started reading the books we had bought for her ages ago while the little one created an imaginary castle for her dolls to live in. They were going back to ‘play basics’; and it felt good.
I suppose the challenge begins when I start to reintroduce technology back into their lives in a controlled manner. But for now, I think they are doing quite well without it.