I was asked recently how can we keep our young children away from mobile phones and other electronic gadgets?
You might not like my answer.
Don't use them.
I've seen too many mothers handing their young child a mobile phone to keep them quiet at the masjid, to get them to eat or when they are busy and need the kids to be quiet.
Our children wouldn't have quite the intense reaction they do around these mobile appliances in the first place if we didn't use them as a pacifier to hush or entertain them...and....
….if they didn't see us with them in hand so often.
We have a big part to play in this, because many of us ourselves are addicted to our phones.
Yes, addicted and often in denial.
Mobile phone addiction is a big problem across the whole globe today, and for the children who follow after us I can't even imagine the potential long term damage its usage will have on them.
What many of us don't realise, is that the mobile applications, games and social media feeds we commonly use have been designed purposefully to draw us in and keep us using them. Because the more time we spend using them, the more money some one else is able to make advertising to us.
Designers use hooks to imitate the powerful addictive tricks that gambling casinos and the like use to keep us going back for more.
I'll give you one simple example.
As Muslims we don't gamble alhamdulillah, however I'm pretty sure we all know what a slot machine is. Its leaver is pulled and a few moments go by whilst 3 image appear. Often these images don't match, but sometimes they do. And so the leaver is pulled again and again by the gambler who is waiting in anticipation for that moment all three images align matched, and they are rewarded with the endorphin hit from a win.
You see, this is what many mobile apps, games and social media sites are doing to us to replicate that rush of a "win"; typically in the form of notifications, likes and messages.
You will know if you have ever been part of a watsapp group or if you have something like Facebook. We don't want to miss anything. Yet we know that 99 out of 100 notifications mean nothing to us, but, we can't help checking our phone a gazillion times with the anticipation that one good one comes up (the images matching) and we have received our win.
The tech guys designing this stuff know the danger
One of Facebooks founders, Sean Parker said that its addictive qualities "exploit a vulnerability in human psychology...God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains." (1)
Jony Ive, chief design officer for Apple, said that "constant use" of the iPhone was "misuse". (2)
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was asked back in a 2010 interview if his children loved the ipad. He responded "They haven't used it...we limit how much technology our kids use at home." (3)
When the daughter of Bill gates (the former CEO if Microsoft) started developing an unhealthy attachment to a video game, he implemented a cap on screen time. His children didn't get a mobile phone until they turned 14.
Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of 3D Robotics, has put time limits and parental controls of every device in his home. Speaking about his five children aged between 6 to 17: "My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules....that's because we have seen the dangers of technology first-hand. I've seen it in myself, I don't want to see that happen to my kids." (4)
So if these are the guys designing and making these mobile-devices and apps, and they are all saying they keep them away from their own children or strictly limit use, then why are the rest of us not waking up to realise the danger on our own families?
It starts with us
So you see, our children's mobile phone and gadget usage begins with us and the example we are showing them through our own actions.
We are showing them what to value in their life through what we value.
If you want your children to limit their usage of mobile phones or tablets, then you have to limit its usage for yourself first also.
I realised that I couldn't keep my own children away from these things if I was using them constantly.
I had to get real and be honest with myself.
So I started hiding my phone. Not to hide it from the kids, but to hide it from me.
What I do, is a couple of hours before bed at night, I put my phone inside my bedroom drawer. I don't look at it until the next morning, some considerable time after getting up. And then, unless I know I need the camera to take photos for the blog or something, I leave it upstairs as much as I can, where it is out of sight and out of mind (usualy).
I know I'm not going to miss an important call. Family all have my home number. And even if there is, I can call them back later when I check in.
Usualy its just a bombardment of watsapp group messages or social media noifications which I don't need to pay any attention to.
And so I hide my phone, from myself. And (try to) check it more consciously.
Believe it or not, we don't have to respond to every call or message immediately. I know...thats a shock right!
When you really stop and think about what we are all collectively begining to do as a society, we can see that the culture we're developing today says that those who are away from us are more important than those who are right here physically with us.
Think about that.
And then decide if this is a value that you want to instill in your children. If it isn't, then you absalutly have the power and responsibility to do something about it.
So back to the original question, how to keep our young children away from mobile phones and other devices?
We can't say to our children that they can't have the mobile or tablet if all they see is us all day long using it.
Young children model us. They want to do what we do...and will do what we do.
So hide your phone and surround both yourself and the kids with things to inspire you all.
Provide things and opportunities to capture interest and imagination.
It's so easy to keep things hidden away in cupboards for supervised use and play, but when things are left out of sight, they are often out of mind also.
Instead, have some low level shelves or cupboards which the children are able to access as and when they please. Teach them how to get these resources and put them away without you, giving them this responsibility allows them to have more freedom on how they choose to spend their time wisely.
Ask yourself, does the environment you offer, help or hinder your child to be able to explore new ideas and spend their time in ways which provide real value?
Does your environment offer opportunities for fun and curiosity?
The environment you carve for your children can change the kind of activities or work they do. Try to make sure that yours inspires and invites.
A few suggestions...
- Cooking / baking
- Art & craft materials; different papers, glue, scissors, card, watercolour paints, stamps & ink, punches
- Small hand made scrap books ready to use to create a project (staple some paper together)
- Board games
- Play doh or kinetic sand
- Magnifying glass
- Weaving board and wool
- Nature study resources
- Science toys
- Stem toys
- Recycled cardboard bits and bobs or packaging to create your own imaginary play or make their own home made toys
- Bug viewing catchers (to find, catch and free)
- Get outdoors, go to the parks, go for a walk....there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.
- Visit places; museums, the beach, country parks.
- Meet real people
Many of you probably have or do a lot of the things suggested here, but a lot of it is hidden away and inaccessible.
So create an inviting space, and offer the invitation for their use. You don't need to have everything out at once (I know that is asking for chaos!), but just a few selected items each week will do wonders to how your growing, curious child will choose to spend his free time.
And if you're not using your phone so much either, this will help keep him away from desiring it too.