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When to Balance Your Child's Access to Technology

11/07/2016 14:40 | Updated 11 July 2016

Technology can be an emotive subject when it comes to parenting: Things are said, punches are thrown, and we all retire with a feeling of smug satisfaction at a point well made.

I'll set my stall out at this point; I'm all for technology. I love it, I give my children open access to it, and because I treat them like the cognisant human beings that they are, I would rather have a conversation with them about how to know it's time to take a break, than to impose some arbitrary time limit on them.

I believe that children are intrinsically drawn to the tools of their society, and rather than technology standing between them and the world around them, I believe technology gives people different tools with which to interpret what they experience.

Why do I believe these things? Well permit me to take you on a journey into my childhood.

My dad used to work in a myriad of exotic and distant lands, which exposed him to a variety of things that may not have quite made it as far as suburban Essex, where we lived at the time. One of those things, was the personal computer.

I remember my dad coming home from one assignment with a small removal truck in tow, to carry the "portable" computer he had purchased, as well as a large stack of ... "minimally labelled" ... 5 1/4" floppy disks.

These were the days of DOS, my friends, so at this particular point in the late 80s, I was faced with a challenge of monumental proportions. I fell instantly in love with this mysterious machine of bleeps and whirrs, but I had no idea how to speak its language. Nor did I have any way to find out, other than to blunder around hoping that I would accidentally type the right command, and when all else failed, phone my dad at work, and sob down the phone in frustration, until he told me the magic word.

Once I had managed to load the games, I was still faced with trying to work out what the *#%& I was supposed to be doing, because remember, these were pirated games, with no instructions. I remember opening Winter Games, and picking my country with beaming pride, only to end up, ten minutes later, screaming "WHY WON'T YOU SKATE?!?!!" when I couldn't figure out the right key to use, despite pressing every. last. one.

Then there was Adventures in Math, which used to drive me out of my MIND by bleeping at me in a really condescending way, when I couldn't distinguish between the 23 identical corridors that it was trying to take me down. I swear, I swear, that game was designed to mess with me, because there is no possible way to get things that wrong, that often, when you only have a choice of two routes. But I'll admit, I did have a soft spot for the spider that stole your loot when you got a question wrong. Sometimes, I used to deliberately throw an equation, just so I could watch him crawl down the screen.

And if that isn't the most tragic thing I have ever typed, I don't know what is.

My favourite game of these first halcyon IT days, was Rocky's Boots. Man did I love those clackers. I had no idea what a person out in the real world did with things called logic gates, but the point was, I was doing something very grown up, with machines that I suspected, even then, were just a tiny bit smarter than I was, programmed by people who were a lot smarter than I was, using something that seemed akin to black magic.

My parents gave me plenty of latitude to indulge my geeky tendencies, knowing that I was also offered plenty of opportunities to spend time outdoors, interacting with real life people, and generally raising hell.

Luckily for all our sanity, games soon acquired more colours and better sound, and they continued to be a central part of part of my childhood. That time working our creaky old PC, also meant I was able to dazzle my science teacher, by printing out a dot matrix graph to stick alongside my science experiment write-ups. It was a cheap trick, but it got me an A+ every time.

The point is, technology is a tool, and like my parents, we embrace it in our house.

Given a normal, balanced life, that works pretty well; my son spends time playing Minecraft, watching other people play Minecraft, and then recreating Minecraft scenes in Lego. My daughter watches other children make up superhero stories, before playing games that normally involve some kind of roleplay. In between times, they take trips out, do stuff round the house, and generally raise hell.

Except for the last six weeks, during which time all bets - and physical activities - have been off, while my son has rested his broken leg. I'll be honest, six weeks of indoor living/ high level of tech usage, had resulted in two child shaped divots in the sofa, and an almost complete loss of conversational skills.

All of which led me to take uncharacteristically drastic action, in the form of a week long tech detox.

For the kids, mind, we're not cavemen.

I won't lie to you, the point at which the children realised that their tablets were gone, wasn't the greatest moment of family togetherness the world has ever seen.

Nor was the whole of the next day. I think it would be a fair to say there was sulking. Muchos, muuuuchos sulking.

But nature abhors a vacuum, and in the case of the children, their need to connect was greater than their need to sit in a corner and weep.

Over the last week, they have come back to their pre-incarceration levels of healthy disrespect for authority. As my son becomes more mobile, and the balance of life is resumed, I'm thinking the time has come to hand the children back control of their tech, along with a new found perspective on what constitutes "too much" and a working knowledge of the term "intervention".

But before I do, d'you think they'd mind if I snuck on a few classic games, for old time's sake?

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