Balance is a crucial element in managing technology, and IT expert and parenting consultant Sylvie Garvey knows more than most on the subject. Here she explains how technology can be a blessing, as long as it's not valued more than time spent away from the screen.
As a parent you might be horrified at the extent to which everything seems to be accessed and accessible through a digital screen. So Is technology a blessing or a curse, and how do we ensure it doesn't weaken the family unit?
Technology can be a curse
Have you ever tried to prise an iPad away from a seven-year-old playing Minecraft at bedtime? Or asked a twelve-year-old to stop Instagramming pictures of you on holiday to her friends?
For us as parents, technology can sometimes feel like a curse. School work comes home needing to be done on the computer; projects need research on the internet.
What's wrong with a pencil and paper, and an encyclopaedia? My ten year old asked me to time her as she is only supposed to spend 20 minutes on her Maths and English homework; when the homework moved to computer work, I had to pull her off after 45mins.
For our children, technology is neither a curse nor a blessing, it just is. They are the Gen Z; the digital natives for whom technology is an intrinsic part of their lives and who will not remember a time before iPhones, texting and the internet. We see our children grow up being exposed to completely different experiences and methods of communication than us, and, sometimes, 'different' can feel like worse.
The 'modern' way is not the only way
We have to show our kids that there is life outside of Instagram in the same way generations of parents have shown their kids that the modern way is not the only way. Everyone loves a passive activity!
When I was young, I loved TV and would much rather watch it than go and play in the garden. Blue Peter, Swop Shop, Grange Hill, Fame - anything! My mum used it as a babysitter when needed, just as I hand over the iPad to my kids if I need to get some work done. However, she also made me turn the TV off and kicked me out into the sunshine, or showed me how to bake or knit.
It's not just the kids either. My husband is constantly on his phone in the evenings, checking in with work. I can still spend just as much time in front of the computer or glued to my iPhone as the kids; we all have to make an effort.
Stepping away from the screen
I love to read books - paper ones, that have a nice smell. The kids and I still love going to the library and coming home with bags of books that they devour, even though there are lots of devices that they could read books on at home.
Online shopping is a godsend but look at the increase in camping, glamping and bushcraft skills courses that are available now. That's people pushing back on too much technology in their lives. It's all about finding a balance.
It is up to us as parents to show our kids there is life outside of a device that needs recharging, but we cannot let technology become a battleground. Technology is changing so rapidly that it is hard to keep up with the newest craze online, newest software, newest apps. Parents do need to make an effort, though.
A safe future with technology
We need to set some guidelines and safety nets around the use of the internet, making sure our kids know what to do if they do come across something that makes them uncomfortable in the same way that we teach them how to deal with potential physical threats at school, in shopping centres or on the bus. Surprise, surprise, it's about communication.
We cannot imagine what their jobs will be like in the future, or what methods they will use to do them. It's just like when we were born; we couldn't have imagined most of the jobs that we do now.
They will learn how to balance the technology with real life as we do. The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting to preserve the old, but on building the new. The new is the balance we want for our kids.
Sylvie Garvey; mum of three and founder of Computer Fitness