The Screen-Free-Week, or, How To Grow Your Childs Brain in One Easy Step

Minecraft, you will find if it happens to you, swallows kid’s brains.  Since Minecraft entered our household ten days ago, we’ve heard about little else from our six year old.  Withers, Creepers, Spiders and the Netherworld are all conversational topics in our house at the moment.

We are strict about screen time in our house.   We have a Screen-Free-Week for the kids every second week, which means no shows, no games, no YouTube, no laptop, no iPad, no phones.

We’ve done it this way for two or three years now.   We noticed early on with our first child that screens seem to supercharge frustration.  We strongly limited the amount of screen time our kids had from the first moments they watched them, but as any parent will know, scope creep happens easily.  We noticed that play was becoming less imaginative and more structured around shows.  That was ok with us, because kids will get inspiration from the whole world around them.  Then “I’m bored!” became a common catch-cry while they waited for their screen time.  Arguments became more commonplace, and team work became almost non-existent.

So after the usual banning of screens as punishment we tried regular Screen-Free-Days.  That didn’t give the kids enough time to get used to having no screens, and they would ask repeatedly all of that day.  We then tried whole weeks occasionally, and immediately noticed the behavioural difference.

After a year or so of doing a week off screens every month or more, we committed to every second week.  The boys now know it’s coming, and they emotionally prepare themselves.

The hardest part of Screen-Free-Week is the lack of babysitting.  It’s harder for me and my wife than the kids.  We have to be much more available to coach and provide options if they need it.  This is absolutely a good thing, but its harder than plopping the two of them down with an iPad.

We find that the boys play much better together during these weeks off, however they need more coaching around learning to relax after a big day or understanding when they are tired.  Screens provide much needed chill-out time, and finding alternatives has been challenging.  Getting an eight-year-old and a six-year-old to just sit around when they are exhausted is surprisingly difficult!  Drawing and colouring has been an effective replacement, but it depends on the level of fatigue.

Screen-Free-Weeks make an effective consequence.  As much as I dislike consequences and punishments in general (I would prefer my kids to behave themselves because its the right thing to do rather than being coerced through bribes or threats), when one is required, the SFW cuts to the quick.  Bad behaviour is sorted out rapidly.

What has been remarkable is the behavioural change we’ve seen in our boys.  They are almost like different people in the SFW.  The change was most noticeable when they were younger and more emotionally charged.

In a screen week we often see arguments during play, and the boys tend to organise play around the times they get screens.  They are often bored and listless while waiting to watch (we usually set hard times around screen consumption).  They are sometimes so emotionally caught up in their shows and games that they can barely play.  The six-year-old often argues with us about screen times and almost everything else that doesn’t go his way.

During a SFW all that changes.  Their play is super-imaginative, dynamic and exciting.  The boundaries they set around games are broader and more inclusive.  They work together as a team and help each other much more.  They tend to be more empathetic.  They are more receptive to their own body signs like hunger, thirst and toileting.

My wife and I enjoy those weeks too, because we interact much more with the boys.  They help us with cooking, or we play card games.  We watch them read or colour or draw, and we listen to their conversations, which are invariably bright and beautiful.

During a Screen-Free-Week we don’t have to fight with media for attention.  With my long-term view towards loving and communicative relationships with my sons, this is a major hurdle that we have overcome.

Violence Is So Damn Easy, or Why The Hard Way Is So Hard

Sometimes, having kids is just the pits.

Particularly when you’ve made the commitment to an upbringing that abhors violence and uses communication instead.

Violence is just so damn easy!

Your kid ain’t doing what you asked? Slap him across the face!

Your daughter is talking back to you? Smack her on the bottom and send her to her room!

Your son is tantruming, screaming and crying over some nonsense? Scream and yell back at him, getting in his face with emotionally violent language about how he’s ridiculous to feel like he does, perhaps calling him a girl for crying!

face slap backhand

See? Just so easy!

Unfortunately, I’ve committed myself and my wife to methods much more difficult. We are living the middle path between a violent or neglectful adult-centric lifestyle, and a permissive, child-centric one.

The Hard Way.

What is the Hard Way?

The Hard Way is taking a step back, assessing the situation from an altitude of 50,000 feet.

The Hard Way is letting go of your ego, which is really a video flashback to how your own mum and dad parented (if it was good enough for me, it’s GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU).

The Hard Way is creating connection with your child at all times, but especially when they are upset, regardless of whether they are sad, angry, tantruming, or any uncomfortable behaviour.

The Hard Way is letting your kids be sad or angry, as long as they are not hurting anyone else.

The Hard Way is not letting your kid have everything they want.

The Hard Way is being flexible, sometimes giving your child what she wants.

The Hard Way is ensuring your kid has regular screen-free time, even when you need a babysitter.

The Hard Way is coaching your child through success and disappointment, rather than being a cheerleader.

The Hard Way is finding and spending Quality Time.

The Hard Way is prioritising family over work, and Quality Time over money.

The Hard Way is loving your kids, loving them hard, and loving them always, even when your ego is reaching for a backhand.

The Hard Way is hard work. It’s a damn sight harder than the bullshit “Good-Enough Parenting” style that gives parents a guilt-free out every time it gets tough. But if you want to grow happy, satisfied, loving and unspoiled kids, the Hard Way is the only way.

Saucepan As Trucker Cap

If you’ve never worn a saucepan on your head for any length of time, I don’t greatly recommend it as a headpiece of comfort.  When I wore a small gravy pan into town many years ago, it kept slipping down the back of my head, and the handle would occasionally hit my shoulder, producing a not-altogether-unpleasant “bong” through my skull.  I’m reasonably sure it didn’t have any gravy still in it, because it probably would have remained more stationary on my pate.

What is interesting about wearing an item of cookware however, is the instant sense of self-awareness it produces.  On this particular occasion I became acutely aware of myself and everyone around me, and let me say… it was not altogether pleasant.  Many pairs of eyes warily rested upon my own, searching deeply, no doubt, for a murderous penchant or some other recalcitrant sign of insanity.

In the meantime, I was highly adrenalised.  This behaviour was obviously threatening to many people, not least to my own sense of self.  All my normal, beige, behavioural scripts were jumping up and down, screaming.  A simple metal pot on my head was turning my world upside down.

If I’ve raised you boys correctly, both of you will have a sense of awareness of yourselves.  One thing you should realise is that most people are not self-aware.  That’s not being nasty or pompous.  It is the truth.  Most people do what they do robotically, as if they have a computer script that they run for each activity.

COMPUTER BOOT-UP…

RUN: INTERACTING WITH WORK COLLEAGUES SCRIPT

RUN: BITCHING ABOUT FRIENDS SCRIPT

RUN: ARGUING WITH SPOUSE SCRIPT

RUN: TRYING SOMETHING NEW SCRIPT

We all have these scripts.  They make life simpler, with less mental overhead.  They also make life dull and predictable.  Scripts are the primary reason many people are bored with their little boxy lives.

Self awareness is important because it gives you a choice.  You can choose to run a script or not.  You can choose to run part or all of a script.  When I chose to walk into town wearing a saucepan, I was ditching many scripts I held dear, and the world was suddenly a very bright and very real place to inhabit.

I walked up to the counter to buy the items I wanted, balancing my headwear so as not to drop it on some unlucky toddler’s scalp.  The lady behind the counter examined me closely.

“Are you a pothead or something?” she asked.

Maybe I was.

The Greatest Detective Story Never Told

Gday boys.  It’s a lovely rainy morning.  As usual, I’ve been up since 5am, stretching, moving, enjoying the only time I get alone.

I’m a man who likes to be solitary.  I love to be alone with my body and my mind, exploring both.  I ran into trouble early with your mum, as she comes from a family where no one is ever alone, ever.  No one from her family does anything solo, or quietly for that matter.

Walk into my family’s house at Christmas time and you’re likely to find everyone with their faces in a book.

I had a realisation last night.  To really learn about myself, I have to truly be alone.  When I say truly alone, I don’t just mean on my own without other people.  I mean alone without distractions.  No devices, no books, no shows, no chores.  They are all colourful and entertaining noise that prevent me from touching that deep place where the boundless lies.

It’s tough to be truly alone.

It’s difficult to not distract myself with all this novel and wonderful noise, these nostalgically photographed cookbooks, those five-star self-development books,  some new and shiny techniques for saving time and achieving… stuff.

However, after years of practice, I’ve observed within myself a personal trend towards entertainment boredom.  I can’t watch shows or movies without a deep sense of boredom.  They all seem so infantile, so shallow.  Not one of them touches on what it means to be a human alone.  No show discusses the pain within and the way to heal it.  No one talks of the ocean of creativity that lies deep beneath the surface where monsters and beauties and the most incredible creations lie.  No one seems to know of the greatest detective story never told – the uncovering of your history, past, present and future.

If more people knew about it, Netflix would be out of business.

Letters For My Sons

Hello boys.

Life is a beautiful thing.  We are so lucky to be experiencing it, with all its happiness, joy, satisfactions and pain.  All of it is beautiful in its own way.

The most beautiful, and yet the most terrible part, is that we have to die.  It is beautiful because it forces us to take notice of life.  We have to be a part of life, whether we want to or not, and when we find death, we start to take notice.  Weirdly, I didn’t find death until I was blessed with new life: you boys.

Before Tay was born I was a couch-sitter.  I had my adventures, but most of my time was taken up with simply dreaming and wishing while I was sitting and blobbing. When you were born, something changed.

This was absolutely NOT me.  Far too active.

Firstly, I had far, far, far less time for myself.  With so little time, I made the most of what I had.   I had no more time for doing nothing, only for creating something.

Secondly, I wanted to be a dad to be proud of.  I wanted to be a man you two could emulate.  This meant I had to recreate myself as a man worth emulating.  It’s a work in progress, one that will continue until my last day.

Being a parent brings into stark relief one of the silliest results of evolution – my kids have to learn all my lessons over again.  All the hard work I’ve put into learning about myself and the world, all that knowledge, it will disappear when I die, as it did when my ancestors passed away.  There is no download button as yet directly into your brain from mine.

Thus I’ve made this blog.  I want you to know what I know.  Of course you won’t know it until you’ve experienced it… but there is a time and a place for all knowledge, and I hope that occasionally the right phrase will be there for you at the right time and the right place.

I love you both of you boys, more than anything on the planet.  Let’s get this party started!