Unplugging is a fairly new concept. After all, until recently, most of us weren’t ‘plugged’. But these days media is all around us and many people are starting to feel the need to switch off. Because technology, which has always a been a tool, has become for some people a source of stress, an obsession, even an addiction.
I didn’t think I was really attached to my smart phone. I often missed calls and took several days to reply to messages, so I couldn’t be one of those phone-obsessed people, right? But then my phone, a nice hand-me-down Huawei from my brother-in-law, met its maker one night in a pool of water. I borrowed another one quick, in case the school or nursery had to contact me, but it was from the dawn of time and it had no Internet. I’m not sure it even had a camera.
Suddenly, I was unplugged. And I noticed. But I didn’t actually miss social media. I realised how often I’d been checking my phone, just reading notifications, seeing likes and comments … Just how much time had I been wasting looking at that tiny screen?
I like a lot of things about social media. I feel closer to friends I left behind in the UK, and closer to some family members. I’m part of some great groups, I see beautiful photos, and I occasionally find good articles that people have posted. But I don’t want to spend too much of my ‘real’ life in that world. I also don’t want my kids to see me doing that. I don’t want to give them the impression that anything on the Internet is more important than right here, right now – more important than them.
I got a new phone for Christmas (thanks, Mr Chef!), so I had no smartphone from 9th to 24th December. It wasn’t long, but it was long enough to convince me I needed to make changes.
- Now, I have no notification sounds, so I’m not prompted to check my phone constantly.
- If I’m in the house, I put my phone somewhere out of sight where I can still (probably) hear it ring.
- I let the notifications pile up (I’ve turned them off completely for Facebook) and then, once a day at most, I’ll go into the apps I use – Gmail, Instagram and Facebook – and check what’s going on.
It’s not unplugging as such, but it’s good for me, for now.
I know some people want to give their kids an ‘unplugged childhood’, so they axe screen time completely and replace it with fresh air and exercise. I understand that. … But, for me, the two things aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s all about balance. I played outside a lot as a kid, but I also have some great memories of watching Indiana Jones and Star Wars with my brother, of rolling around in stitches at Blazing Saddles, and of watching Formula 1 on Sundays with my dad.
I like films (and good TV shows). I enjoy watching them myself, and I wouldn’t want to deprive my girls of that enjoyment. I think there are some great kids’ films out there, but there is also a ton of mindless, flashing crap on TV. So, when we returned from our holiday at the end of August, I found a balance that works for us. There is no TV. Ever. And no series on Netflix or YouTube. There is only movie night – usually once a week on a Friday or Saturday. We order souvlakia, we pick a movie everyone will enjoy, and we sit down to watch it as a family. (Except the baby – she just chows down the food and then crawls around the floor looking for crumbs). The kids look forward to it, and so do we.
But that’s just my balance. I cut TV because its mostly rubbish where I live. I cut YouTube because I can’t really trust what’s on there and it’s full of adverts. Plus, my middle one got moody whenever I turned her shows off – she doesn’t do that with films. And I feel that, for us, watching a movie together is quality time. We laugh together, we gasp out loud together, we talk about it afterwards, we listen to the soundtrack for weeks. It’s fun.
Other families might prefer being totally screen-free, while some parents might need the TV just to get stuff done. I’ve been there. I’ve used Peppa so I can take a shower – and I’m not ashamed to admit it. It depends on your kids’ interests, their temperament, your circumstances and your ideas.
Screens can be good or they can be bad – for us and for our kids – we just have to find our balance.