The Day I Sacked the Electronic Babysitter.
A contemporary tale of rediscovered self-discipline and a new-found freedom on becoming your own John Lewis advert
I love spending time with my six-year old son; we scoot, build Lego and bounce on the trampoline together most days of the week. I work term-time only in a school, so I get to spend school holidays “#making memories” and “#feeling blessed”, well most of the time!
My Facebook updates present an idyllic narrative worthy of a John Lewis advertisement with a barely concealed soupcon of showing off. I know it’s neither big or clever. But aren’t we all at it? With the aid of the ubiquitous picture filter and some judicious resizing, you can make some of the most forgettable outings sparkle and crackle for your social media audience. If you add a Lego mini-figure and shoot close-up with a significant view/building in the background, you could be Instagram king for, well… Five minutes! And what’s worse is that each post is judged by an invisible, faceless army of likers, sharers and reactors.
“But Martin Parr can make a photo of a seagull eating a chip look like an eloquent comment on broken Britain,” you say…
Who hasn’t felt slightly miffed that your exciting Facebook photo album of huge artistic merit receives a paltry number of likes/comments? You even took some of your pics in black and white filter for flip’s sake! I am guilty of this type of neurosis as I market my business, Worthing & Portslade Lego Club, through Facebook. My frequent scanning of the phone/tablet/laptop for approbation is not a mentally healthy way to proceed or a very practical one either.
I am also flawed in my hypocritical restrictions on my little boy’s screen time. By screen time, I mean time spent on a tablet/TV focusing only on that to the exclusion of his surroundings. He will be bouncing/building away merrily while I rush out another Lego Club photo album or mess around on yet another Facebook forum. I’ll join him periodically, but I’m not really present.
Yesterday was different. I took back control of my time, my presence, and Dougal’s play time. I imposed the 90 minutes a day screen time limit on myself as well as Dougal. We were strict, using an egg-timer to measure each of the three thirty-minute sessions. We had a morning log-on, lunchtime check-in and post dinner-time download. In between “fixes” we went shopping, built Lego (freestyle), scooted with friends, had a Lego playdate (Elves kit) and had a cushion fight and a play date. It felt good, liberating in fact.
“I want to break free; I want to break free from your lies, you’re so self-satisfied.”
Here’s what we learned:
1. I FOCUSED, properly zoned in on what I needed to get done online in my allotted 30 minutes. And I did it. Jobs done. List crossed off.
2. Dougal’s behaviour improved. More patient, open to suggestions of what to do. Happier.
3. We played together. Properly. Played. Together. It wasn’t that pretend playing that happens when you have one eye on the phone or are “playing” in the lounge with the tennis “in the background”. Screens are attention seeking types, who never stay “in the background” for long.
4. A screen-free playdate can go for much longer before the arguing starts amongst the kids.
5. Bedtime was far easier to negotiate. Never for the fainthearted, Bedtime with Dougal ranges from mildly challenging to hair-tearingly frustrating. Bedtime after a screen-free day went smoothly with a lot less of the familiar
6. Lego rules! We could end wars with the stuff. I know that I’m biased on this one, but the ubiquitous multicoloured bricks saved my bacon the other day. It was a great feeling to be building alongside my little boy and be fully present in the moment. No beeps, no buzzes, no interruptions to our fun. We methodically worked through The Elves kit and then we went off-piste and did some freestyle building, and the results were deeply satisfying.
We worked closely together, taking turns to source blocks of the right colour and size to build some pretty special models, even if I say so myself!
What happened next?
I’d love to say that I’ve completely dismissed the “electronic babysitter”, and we now live in a heightened state of constant learning and discovery, marvelling at the world around us as a family. I would be lying!
What I have learned is that devices really are an INTERRUPTION when I’m spending time with Dougal. That father-son time should be the main event and my rationing of screen time helps me to focus on finishing tasks so that I can really be present when playing with my little boy. So far, we have kept the stopwatch on the screen time and playtime out and about and at home has been more enjoyable for it!
If you don’t already ration adult and kid device time, I recommend trying it. Do what works for you and do share your finding amongst the DBTH tribe.
For further screen-free low-cost inspiration check out my blog. You could become king of the school run!
Happy holidays everyone. Al.