Disconnecting in a World of Connection by Anna Millers

August 16th

About two months ago I had a random, vague thought. It came to me as I was standing in my kitchen, chopping onions with the slight hint of tears welling in my eyes. I decided to take a chopping break so I went to see what my family was up to.

First I moved to my youngest child where he was watching a YouTube clip by Niga Higa (this is not a racist youtuber, his clips have some very interesting social and ethnic commentary and they’re really funny), so I chuckled as I watched over his shoulder. I then moved to the living room where my eldest was watching The Middle – again I chuckled – quite a funny American sitcom. I ventured into our make shift office/music room where my partner was looking at emails and surfing the net.

And that’s when it happened. It suddenly occurred to me, as I stood observing my family, that we were all immersed in our own little bubble, together and yet I thought, alarmingly – all alone.

In a world where we’re so connected, my family had slowly become disconnected and we didn’t even know.

I started to think about our daily routines and as I recounted them in my head they were appearing pretty much similar to the scene that I’m describing to you now. With a few exceptions, and the weekends, our days had established their own particular rhythm and routine.

It dawned on me that we had to break this routine. It had to stop. Somehow, someway we had got into a rhythm that just had the wrong beat for us and we were all badly dancing, blindly along.

Later that night I asked my partner what he thought of stopping all electronics for the whole family from Sunday night to Friday afternoon. This included all computer use, IPADs and television. We agreed that our children’s go to activity was either the computer or IPAD because we’re actually role modelling this to them – as this too was our go to activity. We had to be all in or nothing. And we both were.

We sat the children down and explained the new rules regarding electronics. Our new routine. No Television. No IPAD. No XBOX. No Computer from Sunday night (once we go to bed) until Friday afternoon till after school. Work related computer use for Mum and Dad is allowed but only in working hours – 8:30am – 6:00pm.

Radio is allowed. Music is allowed. These are the rules.

Now the problem with an established routine is that it’s really hard to break. And the problem with breaking the routine, when children are involved, is that it requires much more effort and hard work. It sounds obvious but our first Monday morning without our usual routine was agony.

The kids walked around in a stupor. I couldn’t get into my usual flow because I had to deal with, “This is stupid. How long is this going to last? What can I do now? Our family is stuffed. This is weird.” It was made even harder by the fact that my routine hadn’t really changed – I still had to get things done.

I went and got the UNO pack and told them to start playing it. But they wanted me to play as well and so began the ‘UNO’ period and it seemed to go on forever. We played at breakfast; we played it straight after school, during afternoon tea, during dinner and yes even after dinner as well. UNO became our life. UNO became our new routine.

Confession time – I hate UNO. I find it beyond boring but in the last few months I guesstimate I played over 500 games. And it’s around this disturbing realisation that I decided to educate and progress my children to the game 500 – oh the joy of a new card game. We moved to chess, boggle, memory, pick-up sticks, basketball, soccer and night drives and walks to fill the vacuum left from our electronic devices and at times we’ve almost broken – but we still held our resolve.

Our first week of no electronics was interloped with many sibling fights and many, many tantrums. I could see my children physically struggling with the withdrawal – I couldn’t wait until Friday after school when I could give it back to them.

I wish I could tell you the second week was easier but it wasn’t. In fact, it was probably harder, it was like reality had set in and we were all suffering. Even my partner wanted to sit and watch TV but it was not an option – so he had to find something else to do.

I had to start engaging quite actively with my children, they needed me to drive them and they often said, “What do I do now? I’m bored. This is stupid. Our family is stupid. ”

I realise that to pull your children away from their IPAD, computer or TV Screen you actually have to be ready, willing and able to step in. It’s frightening as a loving parent to realise that sometimes you just don’t want to and it’s a great relief to have a tool that you can throw at them to give you some peace but that sometimes can (and in our case did) seep into all times.

I now know that kind of peace comes at a price and we understood that the price was too high to pay. The price was missing out on them. I was missing out on connecting with them. And worse I believed they were missing out on connecting with themselves, connecting with each other and connecting with us.

I wish I could tell you that it’s all just so easy and great now. That each day we happily sit, as a family, totally engaged with each other’s company. We play games, listen and talk about the day that was, learn about school, what interested them and then play the piano like one big happy family.

Some of this is true, a very small part, but the fight is still there. It’s a daily constant. My youngest in particular keeps on asking when things will go back to normal and I tell him, this is our new normal.

Sometimes I want to relent, when I’m tired and they are too. Sometimes I just don’t want to connect with them. I want to switch off and I want them to go into some other world where I don’t have to entertain them. I do have these moments but on the heavy flip side I have this; I love our idle chats around the dinner table where no one wants to get up because there is just nothing better going on than sitting with the family and talking, arguing and laughing. I love watching my children chill in their room, bouncing from book to drawing to outside play. I love the peace of the house with no other sounds but our own voices and activities and I love (when they’re not fighting) my sons chatting and making their own collective entertainment.

The hard yards have paid off even though I know another battle is always just around the corner and I will fight them one at a time. But the prize of these battles, no matter how constant, we have decided, is decidedly, worth it.

I now know the irony of our decision, that in a society, which has become so reliant on electronic devices, we had to take the drastic step that, to get connected with our children, to get connected as a family, we just simply had to disconnect.

(Image courtesy of aleksanderdn, 123RF)