Are your kids addicted to their gadgets? Is it time for a digital detox?

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93770-20150125narrowDoes your home provide a perfect habitat for the Greater-Spotted-Xbox? A breeding ground for the thriving i-Pad Mini? In our home, these wonderful little creatures are reproducing like never before…Unlike their forefathers, the ZX Spectrum or the Commodore 64 (who were quite content to wake slowly and spend much of their day asleep) The Gadgets of today require the near constant attention of their owners…they draw us in and crave our company. They do not like boundaries and will sneak, unnoticed into cars, toilets and restaurants given half the chance. (In some corners of the globe The Gadget IS the toilet – if you haven’t seen it check out the iPotty from CTA Digital!). Their possessive nature means they, very quickly, form strong and lasting bonds with their owners, who, without realising soon become addicted to their constant call for company…

Children and young people are particularly susceptible to the calls of The Gadget and, as parents, we are now facing an increasingly difficult battle to ensure that whilst our offspring care and nurture their Gadgets they do not become slaves, attending to their every need in every waking hour! We are fighting hard to ensure our little soldiers do not disappear into a virtual habitat, never to be seen again! Today’s connected-generation are most certainly at risk of over-exposure to The Gadget and this new friendship threatens to change the shape of ‘childhood’ forever. We have a battle on our hands.

163619-20150125Last week, I went to war against the miners, car thieves and lego super heroes that fight for my children’s attention on a daily basis. I persuaded Matthew, my husband, to join my crusade (once I’d got his attention away from his -Mac) and this week we introduced ‘iPad and iSpy Days’…Popular I was not.

The rules are simple…On i-Pad Days, The Gadgets, can join our family and live amongst us, roaming as they do, from room to room… but, every other day, The Gadgets must be allowed to rest…and, if total boredom prevails then there is..of course, always i-Spy!

Don’t get me wrong, i am a BIG fan of The Gadget, I am usually amongst the first to offer a home to each new species, I can see their genuine value and LOVE sharing this with my boys and the children we teach…The Gadget brings us global connectivity and limitless opportunity…Just this week I saw, first hand, the way they can improve dexterity….All three of our boys can now wee ‘no handed’ and, at the same time, play darts and score a triple 20! Granted, it’s a skill I didn’t have as a child but, I have a feeling that, if left to their own devices (literally!) this list of dubious skills would increase…whilst their ability to exist ‘unconnected’ would plummet!

To me, it is about finding a balance. I don’t think I’m alone.

I have been fortunate enough to work with Jim Sells and the team at The UK’s National Literacy Trust and they recently reported that over 3/4’s of our children now have access to touch screen devises at home. 73% to be precise! This figure is rising at a rate faster you can drive a getaway car in Grand Theft Auto! The Gadget is thriving. According to  ‘Digital Predictions 2014‘ from Deloitte, our annual spend on The Gadget has increased FIVE-FOLD since 1999, rising from $150 billion to a staggering $800 billion. This in itself, isn’t a bad thing…but, the tragedy of this evolution is that this ‘technological takeover’ has unfortunately coincided with a drastic reduction in the habitat of our ‘outdoor play’.  As parents we worry constantly about the lure of The Gadget, but, at the same time, we have never been more afraid to let our children ‘out’.

Jan Cosgrove, National Secretary for Fair Play for Children, describes a ‘catastrophic loss of safe play spaces’ as a result of the increase in cars on our residential streets. Their survey found that the top three ‘play places’ of our generation were the ‘fields, woods and streets’ whilst today’s connected-generation list the park, garden and home as their primary stomping ground. Whilst their virtual world has expanded beyond recognition, to the very edge of our imaginations, their ‘real world’ is teetering on the verge of extinction…

IMG_8201But all is not lost! The appetite for adventure and fun still remains amongst young owners of The Gadgets! A recent poll of nearly 3,000 parents and children by Eureka Children’s Museum in West Yorkshire found 81% of children prefer playing outside to watching TV. My own boys are the same they LOVE being outside. They climb (too high), they cycle (too fast) and they love to explore! I am determined that our crazy mud monkeys keep that sense of adventure and. most importantly, keep a balance in their lives. Yes, I worry every time they race out of the front door. I worry about the strangers they encounter and the way they strike up a conversation… I worry when I see them paddle off in their kayaks or find them swinging down a home-made zip wire from the top of a tree…but, that free spirit in me can’t help but smile. Their rosy cheeks and muddy knees take me back to the carefree, crazy, risk-filled days of my  childhood. We built dens on the ‘out of bounds’ land of the Ministry of Defence. We grew up sharing our ‘playground’ with the British Army. Collecting their spent bullets and tunnelling in the back of their sand targets.  We played in streams and swam in rivers. We survived.

Cigarettes come with a health warning. Even the packaging of our food is decorated with traffic lights telling us when ‘enough is enough’ but, as yet, there is no such health warning in regards to time spent with ‘The Gadget’.  How many hours do your children spend in its company? I’d love to know.  How much is enough? How much is too much?

IMG_5706Dr Larry Rosen, recognised as an international expert in the psychology of technology, suggests a 1:5 ratio for children. In other words for every hour they spend with their gadgets they should spend 5 doing something outside of the virtual world. For pre-teens he recognises the increase in usage but warns against losing a 50:50 balance.  But a study undertaken by the University of Maryland found that, when trying to give up their Gadgets for 24hours, four out of five students failed the challenge! They reported severe cravings, anxiety attacks and depression.  They lost their social compass and struggled to find their way through the day.

As a parent I am trying desperately to find a way to ‘lay the foundations’ that will still give our kids access the incredible virtual world at their fingertips but also time for their REAL friends, for playing outside, for real-world communication and thinking skills …heavens, even time to be bored. Our children need time for day dreaming, for mind wandering…their brains need a break from the constant demands of The Gadget… And I don’t want a daily battle.  I know too from talking to my friends that once The Gadget has taken the upper-hand it is virtually impossible to tame it and encourage it back into captivity for evenpart of each week. As parents of the young i-Generation we need to help them find that balance…and maintain it…

…We have survived our first week of ‘i-Spy and i-Pad’ -one day on and one day off.. and no one has died.  No one called Childline. No one left home! Yes they pleaded, they cajoled and bargained but when they had ‘nothing in the world to do’ I offered them the chance to play i-Spy with mum…and they soon something a whole lot more entertaining to get on with! They played outside…they played inside…they wrecked the kitchen making smoothies and (be impressed!) they READ (not because they HAD to but because they WANTED to!)  On our second ‘i-Spy day’ Callum asked twice if he could ‘just go online for a few minutes’ and after being told ‘yes, but tomorrow’ he shrugged his shoulders, rolled his eyes and concluded ‘Well, we might as well go and play something together then Jack’ and off they stomped to play a game of (real life) darts – together! Granted they ended up fighting, Jack threw a dart into his chair and I had to eventually ban the missiles and bring out the lego but…they survived. And so did I.  Just. My virtual babysitters, The Gadgets, got a well-earned rest and, when they returned the next day, we were all happy to see each other.

I am hopeful that our crazy family can co-exist happily with the various species of The Gadget… I am sure that our lives are all the richer for having them live within our home…I’d certainly miss them if they moved out..but, that said, I know they were on the verge of a coup. They were close to a take-over. They had become my nemesis.  It seems that a gaggle of Gadgets can very quickly oust a parent and try the patience of our most saintly.  These little creatures need to be properly managed if the eco-system that is home is to retain some degree of sanity.

We’ll see how it goes..but, for now, the kids are all outside. Cal is playing football with his friends, Jack (always just a step away from A and E) is up a tree and Thomas, is out chatting to our neighbour… A small but positive victory for parent-kind!

But…me…well, I’m on my gadget… so time to power down and get the plasters and bandages ready…


5 Things I have learnt about boys!

Storm Chasing…

There is hardly a day goes by when I don’t learn something from one of our three sons! I exist in a fairly permanent and hazy state of confusion, grappling with the ‘world of boys.’  I am outnumbered every which way I turn! Even Ben (our psychotic labrador) confuses me. Why would ANY animal want to eat dishwasher tablets, socks or plastic toys? But then again I wonder the same about our boys…don’t get me wrong, they don’t eat dishwasher tablets, they only suck the occasional sock and plastic toys are just nibbled…but they do eat for England! The three of them make a plague of locusts look like fussy eaters. They are PERMANENTLY hungry, even as they spoon in the last mouthfuls of a tasty roast dinner they are looking hungrily for desserts. The search for food is never ending…When they are not occupied ‘hunting and gathering’ our three are blasting their way through life at hurricane speed with me, desperately holding on for dear life…storm chasing, renovating the trail of destruction that ‘hurricane sons’ leave behind! On a good day I have the energy and optimism to believe I can tame the spirited winds and I haul them back to collect and rearrange the debris..but that’s on a good day.

But, slowly, very slowly, I am gaining ground. If it helps even the odds then I share these findings with my fellow storm chasers and wish you love, luck and energy! We’ll need it!

1. Boys are great collaborators!

IMG_5426At 6.20 (AM!) not so long back we were woken by our oldest son, proudly informing us that they’d learnt a new skill and managed to put together a show for us! All in the 20 minutes since dawn! I rubbed my bleary eyes and ‘took one for the team’, allowing Matthew to snore, undisturbed beside me.

‘Let the show begin!’ announced Cal.

‘First up! The Brakenbury Brothers with their amazing Mexican Wave, using nothing but willies!’ It is at these moments you know you have sons!

2. The more dangerous it looks the better!

IMG_6711We have a wonderful next door neighbour, a grown up version of our middle son Jack. He rides bikes (and I mean BIKES, of the big, black, shining, purring Duccati kind). I can see life magnified when Jack ‘talks bike’ with Gren. His eyes light up and he grins, Cheshire Cat style. Occasionally out comes Gren’s superfast mini moto… and a delighted, 8-year-old Jack runs in to let me know he’s off for a ride. I do that ‘mum thing’…make sure he has his arms covered and warn him ‘It’s not a toy! Be sensible! Don’t go too fast!’… On the last occasion Jack looked me straight in the eyes with his hands either side of my shoulders..

‘Mum, you HAVE to understand. I was BORN to go fast. What could be better than dying do something you LOVE’

‘Doing it TWICE and NOT once!!’ was all I could stammer, realising, not for the first time – that my mission as a mum wasn’t to help him get good grades, or feed him good veg…those early day ambitions have been replaced. Just keep him alive.

3.  Broken Bones are a badge of honour!


The usual rules do not apply with boys. Warnings of

‘Be careful! You could break something!’ might just as well be spoken in a different language! The aim IS to break something. Only a boy would be told he has broken his wrist and whoop with joy…proudly leaving the x-ray room with a grin!

I was about to console and cuddle our little injured soldier but, as he high-fived his jealous brothers I realised that, once again, I was on the wrong page.


4. They have a unique ability to choose their moments….

IMG_8427I am the proud mother to an arm farting King Herod.  I have sat, through an entire nativity with my body prickling with sweat, intently giving ‘eyes’  to son #2 at those moments when I saw the ‘glimmer of opportunity’ flash across his eyes! The chance to hold an audience and make them laugh was almost irresistible to him! It was simply not enough to start a man hunt, searching for the new son of God…oh no, he had to add an impressive arm fart to add a sense of gravity to his request…IMG_8009

…And it doesn’t seem to get better as they get older. I recently learnt that lesson the hard way…when I left my TEN year old son in the barbers whilst I nipped to a cash point. As he sat in the chair and was asked what he’d like…he told them… only it wasn’t what MUM would have liked. A 0.5, tram lines and a blonde fringe! He had time for 2/3 before I returned! Carpe Diem!  Hmmmm….  We had words.

5. It is not possible to take a walk, unarmed!

IMG_5674What is it about boys and sticks?  We can be outdoors for just moments and, even in a meadow of grass, they will search, innately for a weapon. Perhaps it’s an evolutionary thing, deep within their psyche… But, until they are armed and dangerous they will search, relentlessly. Terriers of nature!  Once armed they will charge and run, warrior style, in all directions. This is continued until either a brother has been hit or a coffee shop calls, requiring all weapons are left at the door. A peaceful WALK just does not happen, at least with our boys. Period.

But, despite the challenges…I have to admit I am enjoying the journey. Raising boys is the best adventure I have ever had. I feel I have joined an exclusive asylum to which I now have a life membership… I am surviving…and, so far, so are the boys. Keep chasing those storms and have fun :o)