Gizmo Woes - How to manage technology without sabotaging family time

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Visualise a scene where a family is having dinner; the father is taking an overseas call on his blackberry while the mother is chatting away on whatzapp. The tween daughter is texting her way through dinner while the preschooler son is lost in the world of videogames between mouthfuls of food pushed down by his mother. If your family dinner time remotely resembles this then you are not alone.

For the last decade or so technology has made such herculean progress that it is now part and parcel of our day to day lives. Most urban families cannot imagine getting through their day without their multiple gadgets. These gadgets make life simpler, you can skype with your extended family living abroad or work from home lounging around in pyjamas. But what is also true is that these gadgets demand huge chunks of your time and attention, so much so that you risk losing sight of people who matter most to you.

The trick here is not to completely avoid the gadgets but find out as a family ways to work around it so that it does not cast a shadow on your precious family time. Here are give ways to help your family have a digital detox.

Purchase wisely: Think twice before you bring gadgets into your house. Do you really need that new Ipad or fancy cell phone? Think about what your family will gain or lose collectively before you buy something. Each family’s needs may be different. For instance, if both you and spouse work out of the house for the major part of the day it makes sense to get your middle schooler a cell phone to stay in touch.

Ensure visibility: Place the gadgets especially the ones which your children have access to in common areas. So designate a space for your child’s gaming system or computer or even television in your common areas rather than his bed room so that you can limit his unsupervised time online. Set clear rules as to how the gadgets will be used and when it will be used before buying the gadgets to avoid confusions later on.

Practice what you preach: Ensure that you follow the same principles that you lecture your family with. Be a role model and switch off completely for say half hour every day. Soon your family will also follow suit. Come up with interesting ways to spend time as a family together even if it for fifteen minutes on a busy weekday. For instance, you could make a family ritual of having dinner where your children set the table and light candles and you and your spouse bring out the food, if this seems impossible you could try something simpler like a coffee/milk session before bedtime or a snuggle down time where the whole family snuggles down in bed and talks about their day before the kids are tucked in. Improvise taking your family routines into consideration.

Set strict rules: Make non negotiable family rules right from the time your kids are small. So if you decide to unplug all gizmos from say seven to nine on weekdays, stick to that rule unless there is an emergency. Expect protest and withdrawal symptoms especially from tweens and teens, but with time they will accept this time as exclusive family time and even begin to enjoy it.

Make friends with boredom: Most of us feel lost without our cell phones or laptops. It is the same with kids. They feel bored and have no clue what to do. Remember that being bored for a couple of hours will not retard your child’s development in any way .Often it is boredom that sparks creativity. So leave out books or craft supplies or board games where he can see it and he might start enjoying using his time creatively rather than being wasted in front of mindless video games.

Get outdoors: Make time to step out of the house with your family leaving all the gadgets behind (carry your cell phone if you must) Go to a local park or museum or have an impromptu foot ball game in your garden. Putting yourself in situations where you have no access to technology will make it easier for you and your family to pay attention and enjoy time as a family.