Love it or hate it, one thing’s for sure - technology plays a huge part in modern family life. And for some of the ‘digital generation’ of children, spending time without a gadget is almost unthinkable.
Indeed, recent research by Eon found one in five parents say their children couldn’t go more than two hours without technology, and more than a third of mums and dads (37%) think gadgets have the biggest impact on the amount of time they spend together as a family. In addition, 28% of parents say their kids prefer playing on their tablets and phones or watching TV rather than spending time with them.
It could all be a nail in the coffin of family life - but, thankfully, author Liat Hughes Joshi has other ideas, with her new book, How To Unplug Your Child: 101 Ways To Help Your Kids Turn Off Their Gadgets And Enjoy Real Life.
“Technology is thoroughly ingrained in all our lives, and our children are no exception,” says Joshi, a mother-of-one.
“But sometimes it can all get too much. Sometimes, wouldn’t you appreciate a little downtime from the technological torrent that eats into our offline relationships? To actually talk to each other and do things together that don’t involve texting and messaging, tapping and swiping?”
The book, which aims to make useful activity suggestions for children from the toddler years right through to teenagers, is written in easy-to-read bite-size chunks grouped into topics including Indoor Fun, Get Outdoors, Arty and Crafty and Activities On The Go.
The idea, says Joshi, is to remind kids that they don’t have to be staring at a screen to have fun - although she acknowledges that while many parents would like to prise their children away from technology for at least a little while, they often don’t have the time or the inclination to transform themselves into Butlin’s Red Coats to provide alternative entertainment. For that reason, most of the ideas are free and need minimal equipment, or none at all, and the majority of activities don’t necessarily need parental involvement.
Ideas include setting up a family murder mystery game, turning the power off for the night and using torches and candles to play cards and board games, learning basic sign language (which will need an online guide), creating a life-size self-portrait, and performing random acts of kindness, such as inviting a child round who struggles to make friends, or picking up litter.
However, Joshi warns: “There isn’t a magic solution - there’s no such thing.”
She does recommend screen rules such as no screens at the dinner table or when there are visitors in the house, but says an overall daily screen limit probably won’t be helpful. However, she suggests discerning between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ screen activities, and setting a rough daily limit for them - so perhaps being allowed to use a games console and apps for an hour, TV for 30 minutes, and so on.
“Keep an eye on things, look out for signs of overload, and let them know that if they push it or start getting too obsessed and addicted, you can and will reduce their access,” she advises.
And she urges parents to lead by example and put their own smartphones or screens down when necessary too.
Joshi thinks it’s fine to hand a child a smartphone to perhaps keep them entertained for half an hour after they’ve got bored doing something else while out, but warns against this becoming the default ‘keep them occupied’ activity.
“There’s nothing wrong with giving them a screen sometimes - that’s totally fine. We all need time to have a cup of tea and a sit down. But it’s when it takes the place of interaction with other people too much that it’s a worry,” she warns.
She says parents shouldn’t take children’s gadgets away, as there are really important things they can do on the internet.
“I don’t want to demonise technology. It’s about trying to get children to understand the downsides, showing them gently and quietly that there’s more to life than a screen: screens are part of life, but when they start to become life itself, maybe there’s a problem.
“You can’t and shouldn’t try to turn screens off altogether - it’s about keeping it moderate, balanced and sensible, and making sure they don’t get so over-reliant on their screens that other aspects of their life start to suffer.”
How Unplug Your Child: 101 Ways To Help Your Kids Turn Off Their Gadgets And Enjoy Real Life by Liat Hughes Joshi is published is paperback by Vie Books, priced £5.99. Available now