Could your kids go a week without SOCIAL MEDIA:
With almost a quarter of UK schoolchildren online for over six hours a day, we asked Shona Sibary to see if her brood could go without...
As a mother, it’s not easy to admit I have lost control. But as far as my two teenagers are concerned, I am ashamed to say that things have spiralled out of hand.
I’m talking about the fact that Annie, 17 and Monty, 15, are helplessly addicted to social media and their phones. I thought I was on top of things. But the other morning Monty woke with a black eye from where he had fallen asleep ON his screen and I realised that I was dealing with a much bigger problem than I initially thought. And it’s not just my teenagers. While my youngest, Dolly, eight, isn’t allowed on social media, she is glued to her ipad.
Statistics only add to the nightmare.
This umbilical attachment to the phones we, as well-meaning parents, bought for them is, apparently, more addictive than smoking. China has set up 400 treatment centres for this public health threat to their teenage population. Everything I read is telling me that my children’s obsession with social media can cause ADHD, anxiety and childhood depression.
I can no longer ignore the fact that Annie and Monty are being held hostage by those devices they constantly stare at. What is needed – like any addiction – is a detox. It’s probably the most painful parenting decision I have implemented since getting them to eat cherry tomatoes, but I can’t live with myself if I don’t try.
‘what do you mean I can’t have my phone for a week?’ annie wails, looking at me with such incredulous disbelief you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d just told her that from now on we would be going to the toilet in a hole at the bottom of the garden. ‘But I NEED to do my Snapchat streaks. and how am I going to know what everyone else has done tonight?’
well, I suggest, you could ask them, in the morning, face to face. also, call me a Luddite, but I have no idea what ‘streaks’ are and I’m pretty sure that the sun will still rise in the morning if you stop doing them. So I’ve gone to bed tonight with only half my offspring speaking to me. But at least I know they are in bed without their phones, so not speaking to anyone else either.
they’re slippery creatures, teenagers, and my two have clearly drawn up enemy lines and agreed to change tack. normally, everyone is head down over breakfast, absorbed in instagram. today, however, is the dawn of a new digital-free era. ‘the thing is mum,’ monty begins, handing me a piece of buttered toast, ‘i really need the alarm on my phone to wake me up in the morning, so i’m not relying on you to get me out of bed.’ annie nods vigorously. ‘i promise i’m not on social media at night. i’m just, like, listening to music as i fall asleep.’ it was at this precise moment that two pigs flew past the window and keith and i laughed loudly in the faces of my two desperate teens.
Hell hath no fury like a teenager with no phone and mine are apparently no exception. I’m guilty of: 1. Ruining their lives, 2. Turning them into social outcasts and 3. Demolishing their Instagram followings. Do I give a hoot? no, I do not. I read today that ex-facebook president Sean Parker has said, ‘God knows what [social media] is doing to our children’s brains.’ I want my kids to be tech savvy and don’t want to alienate them from their peers. Banning them from social media feels like a modern version of locking them in a bedroom. But there has to be a limit. The problem is knowing where the limit is.
boy, it’s been a long week. yet i’m astonished at the improvement in annie and monty’s general communication and mood around the house. once they accepted i wasn’t budging, they had no choice but to accept the digital detox that had been imposed upon them and while they haven’t quite surrendered wholly to the idea, they have to admit that planet earth is still turning without their presence online. they’ve even played cards – i kid you not.
Two days in and I think in addiction terms we are entering the ‘denial’ stage. The kids can see I mean business and have exhausted every possible reason why they need their phones and why I, as a responsible parent, MUST hand them back over. It’s a bit like dealing with a raging alcoholic looking for their last bottle of vodka. I find monty, in a fit of fury, flinging my underwear drawer out onto my bed because he ‘has’ to find his phone for homework and don’t I realise I’m impeding his chances of passing any GCSES? Do I waver in my conviction? Do I heck. I feel more determined than ever that this attachment to their devices has to stop. Keith agrees, although I caught him handing Dolly her banned ipad earlier. She’s Daddy’s little girl, so I’m going to have to be bad cop.
We actually had a proper conversation over dinner tonight, with nothing pinging and vibrating in the background. i don’t allow phones at the table, but even if they’re put aside there is always an invisible distraction, a sense that something is being missed out on. monty and annie’s attention is there, but it isn’t. this evening, however, was different. even they could sense that they’d been released from this hold and for the first time in ages, they were ‘properly’ present in the room.
Just as I sense I’m finally getting somewhere, today is the day I have agreed to hand back the phones. It’s galling, because I feel I’ve broken their obsessive usage but I know now, more than ever, that they’ve had too much freedom online and stringent conditions will be put in place from now on. For example, no phones after lights out, and proper periods at the weekend where I will insist on digital-free family time. what the last week has taught me is that it is very much for monty and annie’s own good. and I think, deep down, they know this too.
Could Monty get through a week without Insta?
Shona knew she was facing a tough challenge
Annie before facing a Snapchat-free life