Screens and childhood, opening up a dialogue for change

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

‘My watch is worth more than your house’, believe it or not these very words were spoken to my older to children by their father when my husband and I bought out first home together in 2017 for £95,000. A rather sad, bold and arrogant statement but a reflection of the world we live in, where modern society values material things over the very things that sustain us, shelter, food, love, nature. In a capitalist society the sign of success is not reflected in a harmonious balanced world, in our connection to each other, in the way we live meaningfully. But is reflected in the houses we own. the cars we drive, the driver we have if we have really made it, technology, holidays, clothes, accessories, outward symbols of ‘wealth’ are valued highly, a stamp of approval on being an all round fab specimen of a human being.

I see so many people now questioning this asking themselves what is wealth? To me and I know to many of you reading this, it does not come packaged and paid for, from a store, with a designer label, it can not be carried on your wrist or in your bag…but is cradled in your arms, in your heart, its those moments away from an over stimulating world. It’s the first smell of spring, a hot cup of tea, a day spent well connecting with people and the world around us. I know this deep within my soul, and as I watch my children grow, in a world which is advancing in technology, where their time is worth more, even at the tender ages of 9 and 12 and dare I say it 2, staring at a screen, than it is climbing trees, rolling down hills and living. Every day I feel a battle to connect them to this, I feel like I am fighting big corporations as a parent to allow my children to be children and to grow, free thinking and conscious, into responsible members of society.

Now this post steers away somewhat from the 'ideal' Steiner-Waldorf inspired life, but we have to remember life does not fit in a box, its not a one size fits all, and my older children although they have had an amazing early childhood experienced the world in a different way which I am facilitating for my youngest, and thats fine. My older two children have devices, my 9 year old an old iPhone which she uses as a iPad passed down from her father, my 12 year old has an iPhone which was passed down from me, when he began his journey into high school. These devices make social connections for them now as I suppose they do the world over for many children. Our communities have changed over the years and children are more likely to live a fair distance from schools than live local to each other, children around here where we live don’t ‘play out’ we live next to a busy road an I suppose as this is one aspect of it, the other no doubt is that family life is changing and with many parents working full time away from the home, by the time children are home is dinner time, homework and then bed, only to start all over again. With the arrival of Covid19 and lockdown these two devices have kept my older two children in touch with friends and family whom they have not been able to see. technology can do amazing things.

We are no strangers to powerful marketing, every high street we have walked down for generations since the 1950’s have sold us a dream, a lifestyle, leisure. Music, bright colours and sale signs draw us through the doors of stores to spend our money… at first on our part at the want for a better life. Items to make life easier, to help us in the home, to enable us that free time with family to spend time in the great outdoors enjoying leisurely pursuits. Currently its estimated that WalMart has the same amount of retail space globally to fill the land mass of Manhattan Island just over three times. We as a consumer driven by intelligent and powerful marketing have helped create a world driven by materialism. Slowly our homes once a sanctuary from mass marketing and advertising have become the ideal place to operate big business, through advertising on the TV, over the years advertising has been regulated especially with Children’s television and the ‘watershed’ but lots of children today are not watching TV they are watching devices, where just like you and I their time is commodified, their searches and clicks put into an algorithm, their thoughts directed, and this brings me to my post today.

Bearing in mind how seductive devices can be, own own virtual reality, escapism, a rabbit hole of clocks and searches. How can I raise my children to be children and to grow, free thinking and conscious, responsible members of society, when they have a device ? Being open and honest with your children is the best way of keeping them safe online and allowing them to develop a healthy relationship with screen usage. I have clear rules and boundaries in place. No games voice/message chat with people you do not know. Clear screen time boundaries my older two have an hour before dinner after homework etc is done, sometimes homework and something we are doing together might run into that and thats fine. Talking to older children about the dynamics of the way social media and algorithm works is also great, talking about modern marketing and its contradictory nature can also help them understand broad concepts which todays capitalist society present to us even children which go against what we know is right. Remember the Disney Pixar movie 'Wall-E' following a lone robot who's job it is to clean a dirty polluted abused earth, populated with waste and junk? how the message of new life, of plants and our planet is so important. As my daughter told me after watching it once 'Mummy, I wonder how many plastic Wall-E toys there are in the whole world? - I bet there are so many. I bet there are millions!' Disneys new Mulan epic comes to mind too, a movie my children with Chinese heritage were looking forward to watching. It was one which I was going to discuss with them beforehand due to the Genocide going on in the Xinjiang province where it was filmed. Xinjiang is the home province of some 12 million Muslim Uighurs. It's been reported that over one million of them have been moved to concentration camps where “they are starved, abused, tortured, electrocuted, raped and even killed.”I approached the subject with my children just this past weekend, for them to tell me they watched Mulan with their father, I mentioned briefly the situation there. Joshua my twelve year old from a conversation we had previously had said how he mentioned the genocide and what was going on , his father acknowledged it 'Yeah I know', but didn't discuss it further. This prompt from my son was a prompt which wasnt explored. an opportunity missed for an important conversation to be had and sometimes these can be so easily missed if we don't open our ears and eyes to our children and their generation. What news stirs THEM, what motivates THEM, what information do THEY need from us to help them achieve what they want to achieve and form opinions about what matters to them most...not what matters to multi billion pound corporations the world over.

‘Mummy, remember the other day when you was telling me about tech companies and advertising ?’ Yes’ I responded, ‘Well, I was googling a new set of headphones for a game before but I didn’t even click on it yeah…..and then later when I was on YouTube watching a video about the game Im playing ad ad comes on with the headphones I googled, I can’t believe it, its so true isn’t it Mummy?’

Shortly after having a conversation with my older two children about the dynamics of modern advertising, about algorithm and how apps are depending on you to spend more and more time on devices to make money and get you to spend yours, he saw it with his own eyes. This is the start of his journey to using technology responsibly, of seeing it from an outside perspective, of questioning its motives, its purposes, of him using it to HIS advantage and taking its blessings, leaving the rest enabling him to engage with it in a way which benefits his world and our world as a whole. Directing him to blogs by young writers who use technology to give a voice to so many children of his generation who feel their voices are lost in an endless online ocean and world filled with chatter about things which are not relevant to them is another way to engage him with his generation, outside of the pull of marketing and consumerism.

I have a two year old daughter living in a home where we use technology on a daily basis, my husband works from home, I work from home, I engage with people through technology, we are conscious of our device usage but there are times when the little one interacts with them too, face-timing family, looking at memories through photographs, she revels in these moments and associates technology with connection in a meaningful way. We have a TV, and who am I to deny the older children can’t have downtime and watch some on a Sunday afternoon? We favour Studio Ghibli Movies over Disney, films like ‘Ponyo' and ‘My neighbour Tottoro’ with their representation and focus on the magic of the natural world and the balance and harmony we must have are films the little one as sat and watched alongside her older Brother and Sister. When I was poorly and my husband was working these movies were my saving grace. Technology and Screen time in our home is managed and limited, it has a time and a place, just like family meals, games nights and our evening read aloud.

It has always seemed like the ideal existence to me, to live in a house in a field, away from the whirring of the modern world, away from technology, living a technology free life, reading books all day, baking bread, being out in nature every day. But then I remember I am part of humanity, and although that life might be great for me, it would be great for me alone. For in a world where technology is only going to increase, its not going anywhere… it can and does connect us globally, its my responsibility to share what I read, what I love about nature and not only try and partake in a global shift to help the environment, to challenge and change prejudice for me and my children, for their future, for the world they are a part of. We CAN raise healthy young minds and screens can be very much a healthy part of that process at the right age.

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