Parenting in the digi-verse: how do we cope with kids and tech?

6am

“Muuuummm!” (spoken in one of those whispers that is actually more like a shout)

“It’s not time to get up yet”

“But the sun is up”

“Yes, its morning but not getting up morning time”

“But the birds are up”

“They’re fools. They don’t know what they’re doing either, go back to sleep”

…………………………………………………………..

“Mummmmmmmm!”

“Please someone take me away…! I have told you before Phoenix: sleep is AWESOME, sleep will make you strong, even the Hulk lies in, go back to sleep”

“Can I watch the iPad?”

“No”

………………………………………………………….

“Mummmmmm”

(immediately HANDS OVER iPad)

“Can I watch jang bricks?”

“Again?”

“Yes, jang bricks, jang bricks, jang bricks!!! woo hoo! Its time to wake up! Jang bricks! Hello birds!”

SIGHS

IMG_6851And this is how many a morning commences in our household. My kids have always been early risers, the downside of having nice quiet evenings with kids tucked up at 7pm in a military style without fail, is that the little critters aren’t so keen on lie ins. I can count on one hand the number of times Phoenix has slept beyond 7am. Every year for my birthday all I ask for a lie in. Its all a bit too easy to give him the iPad in these moments, while I cling on for just a few more straggles of sleep, collecting the little remnants of dreams and savouring the opportunity to lie horizontal without moving (despite having a small person wedged into my side and half my body hanging onto the floor).

Tablets and smartphones – small, beautiful little screens, trays of endless peace and quiet for a small person and a staple of the modern parenting kit do bring about those moments of freedom. They’re like a parent get of jail free screen, all wrapped up in a delicious Apple coating. As Phoenix is growing up technology continues to creep in further and further into our play, into our day to day routine and it does raise some interesting discussions: How the heck do you parent it all?

When Phoenix (4.5) wants the iPad first thing in the morning, its not to game, its not to watch cartoons, it’s to watch ‘Jang Bricks’. A YouTuber, an American man, approximately in his mid-late to early 30s, (this is a guess you don’t really see his face, but he has a nice house and wedding ring so I’m using my imagination here…I also like to think he’s hot, just to add some context), who builds LEGO sets and then reviews them in excruciating detail. Now I know to most of us grown ups this is a bit weird right? Why is this grown man playing with LEGO for all these kids to watch? Why do all these kids love watching it so much? Why does he have the time to do this? Where is he getting all the LEGO? What does he want from us?! All stupid, irrelevant questions that only an adult, unable to suspend their ability to seek answers to the unnecessary and miss what is really going on here….there is no story, there are no characters, nothing really happens, it is literally just a man in his house building LEGO and then talking about these sets. Its actually not that weird, in another parallel universe I’m sure Ben exists as a living breathing Jang Bricks himself.

But I do get it. I think.

Imagine the thing you are most interested in, the thing you would love to spend most of your time doing, the thing that gives you pleasure and joy, and then imagine an expert in that thing, an expert who creates beautiful moments of descriptive joy for you to totally geek over that thing you love? That’s Jang Bricks and LEGO for Phoenix.

So I do get it. And I don’t mind him watching it.

And getting it does matter in this subject of parenting in the digi-verse. If we don’t ‘get it’, we question aimlessly, we turn things into something they are not. Fear and lack of knowledge breeds panic and distrust. Yes its sensible to be wary, to diligently check, but consider part of this process trying to ‘get it’ rather than freaking out or heavy policing. You’ll probably have a better conversation with your child and feel more informed and comfortable with what they’re doing. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life watching the old Jang Bricks with Phoenix and have become quite fond the chap of myself. There was a brief moment where I thought I was love with Jang Bricks, such grace with the bricks he has! Such descriptive wisdom! And look at all his followers! A true YouTube LEGO legend! We could run off into the sunset and live in an actual LEGO house. I mean it takes skill to make one swoon by simply saying: “I’m just not sure about this, I’m not feeling good about this build….it just doesn’t look tractor-like enough to me”.  Oh Jang, take me with you in that tractor, I’ll muddy it right up for you!

I’m probably a little bit more equipped in the digi-verse parenting department than the average mum after having conducted multiple studies into kids use of tech, parental attitudes to it and studying how children use different devices and platforms – you name it I’ve hung out with kids and seen it and learnt about it. And after all this exposure and time spent pondering it all, I’ve sort of ended up in pretty sensible place about it all. I don’t have strong opinions either way, I recognise the sheer number of dramas that come with kids and social media, I haven’t parented tweens and teens yet, but I know its coming. And I do worry about things like access to pornography and what this is doing to boys attitudes to sex and women. I also worry about outdoor time and how much time we’re spending doing natural versus manufactured play. But broadly speaking I am ok with it all, I have a positive and healthy relationship with technology. I personally get very addicted to my phone but am quite conscious of it happening and do other things to stop it. Ben and I have a weekly ‘no screen Wednesdays’ where we switch off all our devices mid week.

The other reason I feel confident to parent in a digital home is just because tech comes in, it doesn’t mean we, the parents go out. Yes we may feel we are ‘losing our kids’  to some of the platforms we love, but we still have a role to play, we are still the parents, we are still the ones who set the rules, who can allow safe exploration and give kids the space and confidence to work out what’s right and wrong….And we still have control of the wifi!

It is up to us to foster positive relationships in lots of different things including a healthy love for technology, real humans and outside. After everything I’ve read, seen and experienced I would simply just say this: our kids will be alright if we don’t freak out, but we need to not freak out together.

Technology has just as many pros as it does cons. If you create a warm, loving, trusting home with good communication and strong relationships and anything thrown it will be ok. It’s all too easy to say ‘kids are addicted to tech, they won’t get off their screens’, but as I said, we should never forget that we are the parents, we have more influence than sometimes don’t like to admit. For my generation; modern parents who’ve grown up with the internet and been part of the social media revolution, I hope we’ll have a better handle on it all. We should feel more confident, have more knowledge and tools to understand and set good examples and parameters. As a result I hope we see a rise in the number of kids growing up with a healthy love for technology and families who just see is as part of everyday life not the dreaded ‘screen time’ its come be called which parents and kids both obsess and fight about. And I hope that by encouraging a healthy and more sophisticated relationship with technology more kids will quickly see that a lot of the surface entertainment and social media is pretty amateur and a bit pointless and move onto more exciting, creative uses of tech in the worlds of film, art, music and design.

The social discourse around kids and tech is usually only ever negative, but through the work I’ve done I could reel off 100s of amazing things kids have learnt, built, created and achieved where tech has played a role. The minecraft craze that has swept the world is a good example, parents complain of addiction and kids getting sucked in, but often this parental view can be tainted by personal fear, and fear creates paralysis and panic. What kids are doing on minecraft is creative problem solving and is far more sophisticated than any of the play we would have been exposed to as children. Could they live without it? Sure? Should they spend more time playing what we consider to be ‘traditional play’, probably. Should they get off minecraft and outside more? Yes. But that’s up to you too. The world moves on, what interests todays kids is different to what interested us. We have taken away their freedom to play outdoors because we think a pedo is lurking behind every corner, we can’t then expect them not to want to experience freedom in other places.

So lets change the conversation around our kids and tech and get rid of some of these ridiculous things we just keep reeling out, a few examples…

“My 18 month old can use the iPad, its so scary” : The only thing scary about this is the fact it may be one of those new IMG_6409shiny Air ones that may be at risk of screen smashing. It is not scary. Babies have always been curious about touching and exploring everyday objects – keys, remotes, now tablets. You probably followed your pregnancy of said 18 months old on your smartphone and logged all the precious first feeds and moments, so lets not be ‘scared’ when they want to have a look and lo and behold can actually use it too! That’s just normal mirroring and curiosity happening right there.

“I can’t get my kids to go outside” : Really? Really? Try reframing the question like this – “Would you like me to pretend to be a pirate and chase you around for the next half an hour?” or “I’m pretty sure I just heard the ice cream van” or “45 mins outside or the wifi gets it”. Yes it would be great if our kids jumped for joy at the sheer mention of a leaf, but its unrealistic, sometimes the outside is boring, sorry but it is, remember we have a role in all this, sometimes we just have to sell it to them a bit more.

“Gaming is so anti-social, he won’t have any friends if he carries on like this”: I’m sure most gaming companies will tell you that the number one driver of success of most games today is their ability to command a social experience. Whether chatting online, physically playing together or just the social conversation around doing it, it is not sitting in a dark room being isolated any more. Most kids (granted there are unique cases and issues that fall outside of this), love having friends and want to make and keep them – they know that removing themselves from the human world is not going to help. Chances are they are likely using games as a tool to help them build and grow their social relationships.

As Phoenix and Indy grow up I will be revisiting this topic and logging the conversations, behaviours and any positives and negatives that crop up along the journey. Its a subject I feel quite passionate about and one I know is hot topic amongst parents. But I’ll admit, I think I do take the side of the kids in it all, because I don’t think us parents have quite got it right when it comes to how we discuss, approach and manage this with our kids. Our children in the UK have a terrible reputation in our media and are constantly described as screen addicted, over weight robots. As I’ve said throughout this post, we must remember we’re still the parents, we’re still in control, lets not freak out together and all just be cool and try our best to ‘get it’ and it will be ok, in fact we’ll all reap the rewards. Too much of any one thing is mental – imagine if I gave into my love for mermaids on even more of a massive scale than I do already?! I would be outcast. A freak! Unable to live outside of water!…Although arguably more awesome.

But the point is, everywhere I look I can always see the good, this generation of young people are amazing and by being fortunate to parent in such an exciting time I plan on harnessing the creativity and empowered spirit that kids today get from the digital world, and encourage a healthy love of both the real world and the divi-verse. This generation can, and probably will change the world, but one things for certain, they certainly ain’t going to do it without tech.

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