Monday 25 September 2017

Internet Free Parenting in the Holidays and Beyond

At the beginning of the children’s school holidays I came to the conclusion that the internet was having a negative affect on my children.  I could see it in the Kardashian culture seeping into my daughters thinking.  I could hear it in the language they were using.  It was becoming visible through their behaviour when I did not allow them on the internet and their behaviour when I asked them to get off of the computer. 

I think that your childhood, particularly your free time as a child, helps you to explore what you like and enjoy, informing the paths you want to take as adults.  If you spend lots of time on the computer, you are spending less time trying out sports, books, games and creative endeavours.  You are spending more time sitting down, being a passive recipient of whatever you are looking at.  I found that my boys drifted towards YouTube and watching silly challenges and pranks.  Little Lady kept trying to get onto Snapchat and Instagram using my phone or her friends phones and was being exposed to a very materialistic lifestyle.  I could see her picking up a very negative attitude and lots of ungratefulness seeping into the things she said and did.

Around this time I read an article from a mother who had given her son free access to the internet and found that over time he lost interest and spent more time doing other things, like playing outside.  I did discuss with Little Man, who seems to be most addicted to the internet, how he would react to something like that.  He agreed that he would be online all day and would not want to stop at all.

So the day their dad travelled to Pakistan, I instigated an internet ban.  It didn’t go down very well.  There were a few days of crying and moaning about boredom.  Once again I was reminded that it “wasn’t fair”, Gorgeous tried all sorts of flattery and cajoling to get me to take the password off.  Little Man on the other hand spent a good few days angry and complaining he had nothing to do, hated the holidays and would have been better off at school.  I let him vent, reminding him I didn’t care and that it was not my job to entertain him.

I actually think it is good to let them be bored. On the one hand I don’t think it is a parents job to entertain their child for every single minute of the day.  On the other, I think they need to rise to the challenge and find themselves things to do.  And did they just.  The levels of fighting, mischief and mess went up in the house.  It was exhausting and infuriating at times.  But the level of creativity also went up. 

Little Man has been baking cupcakes and sending them to the neighbours.  Little Lady has been pouring through my cook books for pasta recipes and smoothies and giving me shopping lists of ingredients.  Gorgeous has gotten as far as experimenting with lemonade as an excuse to taste his grandmothers cans of Seven-Up (with a LOT of fresh lemon and lime added).

They have been building all manners of dens.  They started by hanging a blanket from the front of the boys bunk bed and getting inside with their toys.

Then they moved to fixing a blanket between the top of the bunk bed and the top of their wardrobe, turning the whole room into a kind of tent.  They laid their blankets on the floor underneath and threw in all of their pillows and soft toys.  My younger four spent the day reading and eating in their tent-room.  Little Lady was just happy they left her alone for a while.  They then graduated to building hammocks.  They made a complete mess of their room, they woke their grandmother up in the middle of the night sneaking downstairs to get cellotape to tape a blanket to the bed and create a hammock.  I would never have thought it would stay up except I found Little Man fast asleep in it the next morning.

They have spent hours on the trampoline, when not jumping on it, they take a picnic outside and sit on it to eat.  Once the boys manage to convince me to get on and then proceeded to jump so hard that I got thrown around and couldn’t get off. 

They have been making things with craft materials – I left Gorgeous in tears at home one day because I refused to leave the internet on.  He was upset because he would be bored and have nothing to do.  I felt guilty, but came home to a big map on a piece cardboard with 3D trees, buildings and beaches.  He had forgotten about the internet.

I caught Little Man drawing cartoons, something he has never liked or had the patience for.  I praised his drawings and he ended up drawing a different figure for each of us – both of my little girls loved the cats he drew them, I have my panda stuck inside my wardrobe.

I got them to help out with the gardening, digging holes so that we could finally plant the trees we have had in pots and planning where things should go.

And they have been reading.  They read everything they could get their hands on.  Little Lady and Gorgeous have always been big readers, but Little Man’s English teacher had asked him to try slightly more challenging books which he had been avoiding.  Currently they are spending  whole days reading, with Little Lady raiding my book pile and telling me about the books I have been looking forward to read.  Even Little Man has been trying the type of books his teacher recommended.

Another positive side affect was that they suddenly all seemed to get their hearing back.  The internet seemed to make them deaf and mute, so engrossed in what they were doing that they wouldn’t hear me until I had my finger on the off button and they were having apoplectic fits at the computer being turned off.

It has not been effortless and there are draw backs.  Little Man tried to do a back flip on the trampoline despite me asking him not to and managed to knee himself in the nose, we spent one morning at a walk-in centre and another morning at the doctors to make sure it wasn’t broken.  In between finding things to do they fight like crazy.  I spend way too much time for my liking acting as judge, mediator and coach in disputes over the most ridiculous things (“he laughed at me”, “he farted”, “he touched my food, I’m not eating it now”).  The house is never silent as it is when the computer is on.  Silence is like a magic, special thing that is just not meant for me. 

They need internet access now they are back at school to help with school assignments and homework, but I am so glad I shut down internet use for the holidays.  They got to try some of the things we did as children, they were pushed into being creative and use their imagination and they had a break from exposure to some of the toxic effects of the internet, pop culture and gadgets. 

If you want to know more about the effects of these things you can read Toxic Childhood by Sue Palmer (my review here).

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