Over the past few weeks we have begun to introduce screen-free time into our family lives. A combination of both adults working from home, me setting up my own business, and two teenagers means that a large proportion of our lives is spent working at or conversing through screens. After what has felt like an alarmingly long and grey winter we were all feeling a bit, well, meh.
The jury seems to be out on whether screen time is is a good or bad thing. Certainly, there are arguments for both sides and a study at the University of Cambridge in 2018 suggested that it was no more damaging than eating potatoes.
As a teacher & tutor, spring is my busiest time of year – daily emails requesting a space for lessons remind me that I am just one person and there are only so many hours that I can offer. I have not yet mastered the art of cloning myself or dividing into two like bacteria, so for now I will have to resign myself to pleasing some of the people most of the time.
The pressure that I was beginning to feel from my email and social media accounts pinging at me appeared to be mirrored in my family, perhaps not from work but the feeling that when a message was sent to them they had a duty to respond no matter what time of day or night. I don’t believe that this is true, and decided over the past two weeks to test this theory.
I started testing the theory on my own to see if it made any difference to how I felt before inflicting my psychological studies on my kin. On Sundays, I have been writing a short blog but have switched off my emails. Then during the week, I have switched on my email assistant after 7pm. I’ve fiddled with social media, but only on my own accounts – work accounts are switched off. In effect, I wasn’t limiting my screen time but giving myself permission to enjoy other activities.
Suggesting a walk outside to teenagers instead of the standard combination of Playstation & Discord may seem laughable, but once the predictable groaning and flopping into the car was over we all experienced a change. The teens were delighted and confused in equal measure that I insisted on them abandoning homework and leaving the house. Putting down the phones and being outside allowed us to chatter and drop the pressure of being ‘on duty’. Instead of being horrified at mess & disorder, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the teens chase each other about with muddy sticks and explore.
Now clearly, I’m not suggesting that we transformed into the Von Trapps with a couple of weekends of fresh air, but with the rise in teenage stress levels during exam season there is method in my madness.
As parents and teachers we sometimes forget that the overwhelming stress and pressure to be a success is also felt by our children, and with the more emphasis placed on exams at all key stages the need to walk away for a while is more pressing than ever.
Being in the fresh air may work for us, but isn’t the answer for everyone. Whatever is it that allows you to step back for a while and just be whether you’re a student, teacher, or parent is what is right for you. In some cases, that may well be screen time!
Now back at work and typing a blog about sharpening my own axe, the connection between me needing a break from my emails and my students needing a break from constant revision is really clear. So parents: please make sure your teenager gets some regular down time (even if like madam above she doesn’t appear entirely enthused!), and teachers: the most frequent feedback I get as a tutor is planning for homework. Please give kids a week to complete it. Let them attend those time out activities, have that family time, and get to bed early.
Oh, and one other benefit of getting outside and away from screens? How often do you get to see things like this? David Attenborough eat your heart out! (alsocue swaggery teens instantly whisper-squealing things about Bambi)