Dabbling in the world of unplugged parenting
Let me start at the beginning. It all began with the Big Fight, a face-off between my 10-year-old and me. He insisted he was ready to be an adult, and I was certainly not ready for it. The irritation at his behavior moved to angst and then, paranoia. When temperatures didn’t cool off by day 4.25, I decided it was enough. My friend pushed me into an Art of Living parenting workshop, Know Your Child. As I listened to the instructor, Pranali Ambarish, I moved through a range of emotions. From looking down at the workshop to listening intently to guilt at my behavior, pinched with motherly pride at my son. I, then, began to map out a journey towards a more aware parenting style. This included unplugging my family and me from the incessant chatter of consuming technology. This is my attempt at a heroic rescue operation.
6:45 am: I woke up horrified. The news article I read last night still rang loud and clear in my head. And to make matters worse, my mother-in-law insisted on reading the article aloud to her plants. According to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids today spend nearly every waking moment — except for the time in school — using a smartphone, computer, television or another electronic device. In fact, kids aged between 8-18 years spend an average of seven-and-a-half hours a day with various devices. That is over 53 hours per week.
I don’t know if the plants withered up listening to this data. I certainly did.
8:15 am: The younger one is off to school. I’m about to pack my lunch bag. Oh, wait! Wasn’t today the official cheat day (fourth in a row!) to celebrate Myra’s promotion at work? I was about to do a victory dance when my hands suddenly came down with a thud. Didn’t I speak to my elder one yesterday about healthy eating habits? His 10-year-old eyes promised me to be good and cut down on sugar (can you believe that?) while I’m creating a record of the most cheat days in a week. I hastily packed a healthy lunch of salad, jowar rotis (sorghum flatbreads), and bhindi ki sabzi (spiced okra). I had better keep my end of the bargain too!
9:15 am: I’m about to leave for work, but the elder one insists on helping me maintain a track record of being late, consistently. I listen with half interest to his questions about the Facebook data disaster, while I suddenly perk up. Didn’t my child specialist friend tell me the importance of listening to kids’ questions? Not to ignore them (“It could create a sense of low self-esteem later”) and not to answer either! (“Don’t curb their creativity.”)
Was so glad I remembered her advice and asked him: so what do you think Mark (Zuckerberg) should do? I could suddenly see a visible pride in his posture as he tried imitating Mark’s American accent and look sincerely at an imagined CNN reporter. I was impressed by my son’s answer. Was he ready to be the founder of a multi-million dollar company already? “Maybe we should rethink about him completing school,” I began, only to quickly close my mouth as the husband shot venom bullets at me.
2:30 pm: I looked around at my colleagues, all huddled over their laptops. We had just finished our lunch break, was it time to get back to work already? I wanted to quickly look at my buzzing phone, full of updates from friends on WhatsApp, and Instagram.
A few quick tips for the awesome parents out there:
1. Restrict the exposure to television, gadgets.
2. Nurture the many qualities in your child. He/she already has all that is good.
3. Be what you want them to be. Children learn the most by observation.
4. Answer their questions. Avoid getting irritated, or postponing them. Instead, ask them for the answers.
5. Quality time is the biggest gift you can give any child. This will help you get inside their wondrous world and will make them feel secure and loved.
6. Respect the child’s uniqueness. Don’t pressurize children. Instead, help them achieve excellence in their unique strengths.
Suddenly, I felt like somebody has thrown cold water on my enthusiasm. Didn’t I give a pinky promise to my younger one about lesser screen time? We had decided to limit our screen time to 30 minutes (television); 30 minutes for phone surfing (adults) and zero minutes for phone surfing (humans below 18 years). Even my sphinx-faced husband had joined us. I quietly returned my phone to the bag.
6:45 pm: Just returned huffing and puffing, all tired. Did the lift have to take a break today, of all days? I was pleased. My goal of climbing at least four floors in a day was met - three times over. The kids were hypnotized by a cartoon and quickly acknowledged my presence by glancing at the grandfather clock. They only had a precious 15 minutes more to watch the idiot box.
After which, I promptly sent them for three rounds of running around the building. An outdoor sport or a game has become a rule, especially since my specialist friend insisted: “Adults use 20-30 percent of their lung capacity; while children use up to 90 percent. When the energy is not channelized properly, children get destructive and violent. When the energy stays within, it creates restlessness and creates problems like those of concentration. Proper physical exercise is very important.”
Ever since that day, every person in our mad household has been put on some physical activity - including our eight-year-old dog. I’m told it is a queer sight to see the kids, dog, husband, and house help running around the building. But I’m taking no chances.
8:15 pm: Since the television set and video game box has finished its timeline for the day, silence descends in our household. Dinner is done. And everyone is sitting gloomily in the living room, throwing desperate glances at the silent television.
I notice all this and do not yield. Suddenly an apparition appeared before me: “If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years from now, we’re going to be in trouble.” Was that Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, talking to me? “According to the McKinsey Global Institute, robots could replace 800 million jobs by 2030. Children should be taught “soft skills” like independent thinking, values, and teamwork,” the voice continued before I snapped myself out of this reverie. Nobody else in the room saw Mr. Ma - except for the live attendees at the World Economic Forum 2018, millions of people who saw the videos on social media, and now, me. An apparition was all I needed to be determined and focussed.
“How about we play scrabble and complete the skit we were planning last month?” I quipped brightly. I ignored the bored yawns and enthusiastically got the game out.
Surely, a game of Scrabble counts as team-building? Ahem, family-bonding?
Soon, the TV-induced silence was long forgotten. Competitiveness kicked in, we were fighting for the glory of run, albeit rolling on the floor.
Well, it did take a little effort, but worked. For today.
9:45 pm: Time to shut shop. As I reached to switch off the clown-shaped lamp in the kids’ room, I saw the pictures on his billboard. Cut-outs of cricket superstars, his picture from a match and suddenly remembered a meeting from the previous week. My son’s teacher had called me about his poor maths and science grades. I remember explaining that every person is unique and that we should give them time. I didn’t want to burden my son with my expectations. Instead, I’m hoping to help him achieve excellence in his uniqueness.
As I tucked myself into bed, I had to remind myself not to feel pressurized and give into the competition. All that can wait. For now, I need to steel myself to be a better ‘unplugged parent.’