Does your mind feel frazzled and full of too many things to juggle? The combination of fast and busy lives and the information overload of so much use of technology is causing your brain to overflow!
And it’s becoming a real issue for our kids. Think of it – our children are growing up from the get-go with this digital overload and they're just adapting to it. But not always with great outcomes: Anxiety and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are rife amongst children and teenagers.
Most of us adults had slower, simpler childhoods with much less technology and no internet connection (imagine that!). Our brains were allowed to develop with more free and creative play, and our lives were generally slower and less stressful.
Many parents say they’d love their kids to have less screen time and be less ‘addicted’ to screens and they think their children spend too much time indoors. But do you, like many parents, feel that it’s a battle you can’t win?
Well, it’s not too late for you to take charge of your kids’ lives – and your own – to cut down the digital overload and get some headspace.
Your children can still have a simpler, creative childhood, but it will take a bit of effort on your part to design it this way. Cultural trends – and the big businesses behind the media, toys and digital products - will make your job tricky. But it’s totally doable!
Read on for 5 Ways to free up Childhood from Technology, 5 Ways to Simplify Your Child’s Home Environment, and finally 5 Ways to Find More Headspace in your Own Life.
5 WAYS TO FREE UP CHILDHOOD FROM TECHNOLOGY
Media – whether from the TV, video games, radio or internet – is highly stimulating and is also not very creative (ie. it’s mostly passive).
Using devices robs your kids of time doing imaginative and physical play, whether that’s in the garden or inside doing craft, blocks, drawing etc. Sure, there are many creative games online where kids make songs, pictures and so on, but these are highly-structured and don’t get them to innovate or find out-of-the-box ways to do things.
So to give them more free time to be creative and active, here are 5 things you can do to cut down on your children’s digital overload:
1. Remove or Reduce Screen Time
OK this is an obvious first tip! But you CAN do this!
Firstly, if you have a baby or toddler here’s a great chance to avoid screens altogether. Remove it now and your toddler will get used to not having it pretty quickly (especially if they don’t see their siblings doing it!). My 4yo daughter has watched TV at other people’s homes and knows all about it, but she almost never asks to watch TV or online shows because it’s just not part of her life. She also never sees her parents watching TV or Youtube videos!
If your child is older and already in the habit of iPad games, TV shows or video games, read on for some ways you can control it or remove it.
2. Avoid Getting New Devices
BEFORE you purchase an X-box, iPad or laptop for your child, decide whether you want them to be spending a lot of time in front of the screen.
It’s a slippery slope – once you have a device it’s a real effort to control the amount of use it gets. If you’re prepared to make this effort, fine, buy one. But if you can see now that it’s going to be a battle, then just DON’T BUY IT! Just because your child’s friends have one does not mean he/she has to have one. You’re the parent – you decide.
3. Have a Technology Agreement with your Child
These days most schools require kids to own an iPad or laptop at some stage. But this doesn’t mean you should let your kids have constant use of it. Draw up an agreement with them about how much screen time they can have each day and get them and you to sign it and put it on the wall.
Here’s a recent blog post I wrote about reducing screen time – at the end of it I provided a copy of an Device Agreement you can use with your child.
4. For When you Just Need a Break
There are so many other quiet play options, instead of the TV or iPad, when you need your child to have quiet time and let you get on with cooking the dinner! They can do drawing, painting, playdough, sticker books, sensory play etc. Here’s a blog post I wrote full of play ideas you can engage them with!
In most child-care centres, kids are required to lie down on a small mattress with a blanket and just lie there for rest time. You might be surprised that they can do this, even at home! As with anything, they need to get into the routine of quiet time to get good at it.
5. Sport is a Great Solution
After school, instead of watching TV or playing online games, get your kids outdoors. Give them a project or game outside or some sports equipment if they need an incentive to get outside.
Lots of kids love sport, so encourage them to practice outside or play with others. Once they’re old enough they can join a sports team or class, of course, and get really into it!
5 WAYS TO SIMPLIFY YOUR CHILD’S HOME ENVIRONMENT
We don’t realise it but our home environment can also be over-stimulating for our children. Here are some ways to create some calm for them.
1. Make your child’s space tranquil
Reduce the amount of toys and stuff in your child’s bedroom or play area. Give away toys they have finished with, and put others away in the cupboard – you can bring them out later and they’ll be excited to rediscover them! Also, ensure their walls aren't covered with aggressive or over-stimulating pictures.
2. Have green space and nature around you
Loads of research shows that even just looking at nature reduces stress. Having plants in your home and a green garden outside will give your child plenty of everyday time in nature.
3. Avoid bleeping toys
Apart from screens, other toys can be over-stimulating as well: anything that makes a lot of noise, beeping, digital voices etc. Avoid these!
4. Reduce background noise at home or in the car
Keep the TV off unless you are actively watching it and only turn on the radio if you’re listening to music. Avoid commercial radio with loud ads or news broadcasts.
5. Avoid your child watching or listening to the news
It is mostly bad news and contains a lot of adult issues well beyond the readiness of a young child under 10.
5 WAYS TO FIND MORE HEADSPACE IN YOUR OWN LIFE
It’s all well and good to talk about how we can reduce digital stimulation for our children, but what about you, the parent? You’re also probably feeling mentally overloaded and cluttered from screen time. And your home and lifestyle may well be adding to this feeling of overwhelm. What can YOU change?
1. Reduce the amount of your free time you spend trawling the internet
Identify some other activities to do instead at the times you would normally get on the web or Facebook. Decide to play board games with your partner, call a friend, play music, read a book – schedule these instead. When you do jump onto Facebook or the web, set a timer to tell you when 10 minutes is up so you don’t stay on there for too long!
2. Don’t check your phone in front of the kids unless it’s urgent!
Set a good example to your kids by not using devices in front of them unless it’s urgent. Often we check our phone just to look at Facebook or emails when it’s really not urgent. If it’s important, people will text or call, and you can respond. Otherwise, stop checking!
This is really the number 1 best way to declutter your mind. Start small with an easy daily goal like 10 minutes. Use an app or a guided meditation. Here’s my blog post to help you get started on meditation.
4. Declutter your home
Like your child’s bedroom, the whole house may need a declutter if there is stuff everywhere. Removing the chaos will help your mind feel freer too. Give as much as you can to charity shops, sell it or bin it. You will feel much better!
5. Make every evening a Slow Evening
Lots of research shows that screen use close to bedtime makes for poorer sleep. Make your evenings before bed all about relaxing and slowing down. In the hour before bed meditate, read a book, or cuddle your partner.
This a great start to help you slow down in the new year. Next time I’ll talk about how we can slow the pace of life for our children and ourselves by easing our schedule and having more time.