“I need 5 minutes” thinks carer.
The child is restless, lobbying for the attention of the carer. The child and the carer are both exhausted. The child has many, many toys but they don’t seem to make a difference. The child plays with all of them, the carer plays with the toys to see if the child is interested. Child is interested in seeing the carer play with the toys. And nothing else.
“I need a cup of tea” thinks carer.
“I need 5 minutes to myself” thinks carer.
And there it is. The tablet.
Carer sits down to select a cartoon that can entertain the child for 5 minutes, whilst putting the kettle on for a cup of tea…perhaps to make that phone call. By now the carer is an expert on multitasking i.e. looking after the child, entertain the child and, whilst the child sleeps, do all the rest.
Finally, a cartoon that is simple, lovely songs and colours, does not seem offensive and the carer likes it. Tap tap tap, there it is.
The child holds the tablet, and the eyes are as round as two teacup saucers.
As the child is absorbed entirely with the screen silence reigns once again – and it is not night time. Ah, that cup of tea. Oh, the phone call. Check for messages or comments on the social networks. Ah, send the email and carry on working on that project. Perhaps gain some time and make a start with meal time. Or tidy up the room, get on with the dishes or get rid of the pile of laundry…
Still silence from the child. By now the child is completely engrossed with the cartoon, a different episode.
Carer comes into the room to check on the child. The child seems happy. Carer is happy to see the child happy; hence the carer carries on with a myriad of tasks which otherwise, would be left for later if not left undone.
“That cartoon is a hit” thinks the carer.
Does any of this sounds familiar?
It is what I simply call “the electronic nanny”. Any electronic device which is capable to entertain the child for endless hours, keeping both child and carer happy to the brim. The carer can get on with day to day life and the child can be entertained. By now the child has a selection of “apps” that can teach numbers, letters, colours, rhymes, songs, stories, shapes and even other language!!! ” This is just genius! How comes no one ever told me about it!” thinks the carer.
Do not take me wrong: the health of the carer is as important as the health of the child. And when I say health, I mean physical and emotional health, not just the healthy food and everything we link with the word “health”.
But compromising the future health of a child for 5 minutes of “peace and quiet” – that you know it will end up becoming an hour if not more; and more still, becomes something regular – is a steep price to pay. There is even an article on the guardian about it: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/dec/25/screen-based-lifestyle-harms-health-of-children
I know it is easy said than done; and I know this because the “electronic nanny” was once a guest in my house. It did take immense strength to remove her from my son’s life: endless hours of crying, tantrums, rage – yes, rage of him throwing everything and making everything and everyone in the house a target – manipulation (those big sulky eyes saying “oh, please, I am about to die here” sort of look) and more tears, screams, kicking and empty gazing – or evil staring.
You name it: I have been there and it is a path where you will be told “not to be cruel to the child” or “what kind of parent does not allow the child to watch TV” “C’mon…put your feet up, give the child some TV, get some time for yourself” or even worse, the silent look.
Then others may say that the child will be “behind his peers” when it comes to technology. Do they mean that the child will not know how to push a button or slide a finger on a screen? Do they mean they will not know how to use Instagram?
It took a lot of patience and a lot of “I’m not going to give in to this”. More than anything: It took me a lot of inner acceptance that my little one could be included on daily chores such as dusting, stretching duvets, putting clothes in the washing machine, putting the dishes away, do some planting, or perhaps help with the shopping. I had to accept that he was not so little anymore and if a plate fell on the floor and broke it was a good excuse to change the service set.
I must accept and adapt to get the electronic nanny out of the house. I had to give more time to the chores and tasks and not rush around if I really wanted to do this. Again, it was not easy to get into this new self-imposed rhythm. But to see the results? Oh boy, that was a real treat.
When my little one discovered that he could put his laundry inside the washing machine – although it took ages, if not eons! to get done – and then press the button to see the machine working he was as excited as Columbus may have been when he landed in America instead of India. When he discovered the brush and dustpan and the noise it would make on different surfaces; when he realised that shaking the dustpan would undo all the work he has done; when he saw the tulips bulbs he planted starting to sprout. And the list can go on. And the electronic nanny was almost gone.
As horrible as this may sound, I had to stop under estimating my little one’s abilities and strengths. Awful words, are they not “Under estimate”. I was doing so, what I solemnly swore the first time I held him in my arms “I will not do what they did to me: I will not under estimate you”.
I mentioned that the electronic nanny was almost gone. Yes. She is with one foot out. I am still battling to get her completely out. It is hard to leave bad habits and electronic devices on a child’s hand is no different. At least we agreed on only 30 minutes per day – and now we are on 22 minutes a day. And when the bell of the kitchen timer goes off, he, on his own accord, turns the electronic device of his choice off. No moaning no complaining no tears no tantrums. He happily goes to his bedroom to play or gets in the kitchen to see what am I doing.
Now the toys are interesting and he can create his own little world. Or if he sees me reading something he grabs a book and pretends to read. If he sees me around the computer, he asks what am I doing, and soon enough he finds something to do. But he does not crave for a screen or any sort of electronic device.
Yes, it is not easy by any means to go through a “detox” but believe me, it is possible. If someone comes and tells me that “I am damaging him because he is lacking the technology side of life” I can be happy with the fact that he is learning to live without an electronic nanny to “nanny” him when I am doing things such as looking for jobs, house chores or writing. I am sure he will have time to learn technology.
I am certain, however, that the skills he is acquiring now through play and helping around the house will not be learned through technology.
As far as I am aware, there is no software on earth that can mimic the feeling of soil when planting a bulb, or the feeling of warmth inside a house made out of duvets and pillows.