The Children these days come into this world with a fascination for screens (TV, Tablets, Laptops & Phones especially). As babies, they react to anything about the phone – ring, talk, music, chime, and other sounds. Then, we fully onboard them by using the phone to keep them occupied or distracted so we can work or have some peace. Before they are a year old, they know how to use the phone, mastered all the nursery rhymes, plenty of cartoon/animation characters and many have already become friends with Caleb & Sophia*. Some are fortunate to have their own devices; others craftily appropriate their mother’s.
After this early phase as the children get older, we begin to get concerned about this love affair that our children have developed with devices, which we had ironically encouraged earlier. I do not know of any parent who has not expressed concern about their children’s use of devices or who has not gone through this cycle of love and hate.
In this article, I will try to discuss the issues around the use of internet-enabled devices, what the problems are, and how I am managing it with my kids. Perhaps, there may be points you can use.
The Issues with Devices
The problems start when the children become so consumed with the devices (usually the games) that they begin to neglect every other thing. The worst of neglect is when it is meal time and the child, although hungry, does not respond to calls to come to the table. Then schoolwork suffers, the child turns to a recluse and the device becomes the most important thing in his life – every waking moment is spent in the digital world of virtual reality.
Then watchful parents get alarmed and for very good reasons.
The internet is a mirror of the natural world; it is a jungle filled with the great, good, bad, ugly, nasty, abhorrent, and evil. There are things on the internet that could shock and shake any adult. The terrible reality about the bad parts of the internet is that you pay for it to be delivered to your home. All of the violence, porn, idling away, useless games, misleading ideology, propaganda, fake news & life, you name them – freely delivered at your expense!
To us it became clear that the major issues were:
- The distractions from the many entertainment (on TV, Tablets, Phones, Laptops), making it impossible to do the things we need to do at the time we need to do them.
- The long time spent on these devices
- The many unhealthy content that requires discretion that children do not yet have. Some parents say it is impossible to supervise children and so the only way to protect them is to stop the use of devices.
- The ills from too much exposure to screens making it impossible to read and play (physical interaction) as well as develop social skills. Some people say devices kill creativity & stems some physical & mental development
For a while, the big question we have grappled with is ‘should we allow the children to use mobile devices & social media? To what extent would we allow indulgence in TV programs?
When our children were younger we downloaded a lot of nursery rhymes, series of animations we considered healthy and those were what we fed them. When the ‘Become Jehovah’s Friend’ series appeared on jw.org, we also let them have those. We prescreened a lot of animations on cable TV and ensured they watched healthy ones. Some Cartoon Channels were blocked. Over time we have taught the children how to pick programs that are healthy and those that are not & they are doing very well.
Our Stance on the Use of Devices
The big challenge has been with internet-enabled mobile phones. It’s been a struggle to ensure that the children do not veer off into the negative rabbit holes as we have resolved that they will use the internet. Some of our considerations for allowing them to use the internet are as follows:
- The world has gone digital and virtual; the internet is where the world is. Children should be exposed to it so they can fit in. They need to understand how the world works. Indeed the world has changed, we must also.
- Study has moved online & the Kids must move up as well. Study – both secular & spiritual are abundant online. We must move there as well. Imagine the research capabilities of the internet. A lot of useful information and resources are only available online
- A lot of occupations are internet based and data driven; the next generation will ‘live’ on the internet, we cannot disadvantage our wards in any way.
- The new economy that runs on the internet – Blockchains, CBDCs, Cryptocurrencies, NFTs, etc will be the mainstay of the future. The kids, in addition to being participants also need to be helped to become creators.
- Play, a lot of it is on the net. Why exclude the kids, especially when they can develop some of these?
- The capability of the net to connect people socially and otherwise & other wonderful things that the internet affords.
If you do not want your kids to use the blackboard when others use sophisticated devices, please let them get a healthy exposure to devices. ‘What about me? Did I use devices as a kid? Am I not getting by?’ Please don’t deceive yourself with that reasoning. What do you really do with the devices you have? Make calls, chat, check IG & FB, and occasionally play some games? Have you thought about the fact that it is young people who are building those devices and developing the games? Can a healthy exposure help your kids to play in this league? Thomas Oshekure said if ‘you close your eyes to stop you from seeing the bad, so too you won’t see the good’.
After we started using the App ‘JW Library’* more at congregation meetings, I loosened up a little & allowed the kids to use devices at meetings and more so when I realized that devices kept them attentive. Over time, they earned my confidence in their ability to handle my Tab with care & the supervision decreased. I also got them a Tab. Over time, my wife & I have discovered that devices are the best medium to teach our children. When the instruction is passed through an electronic device, it sinks in faster. Its use by the children has therefore become non-negotiable. Now the thrust of our work with them is on care and good use of the devices.
The pandemic accelerated the move to digital devices. As it progressed, worship, schooling, entertainment, and practically everything moved virtual so any restrictions we may have had would have become futile.
For a certainty, the Lockdown period was one groovy stretch of wonderful time with the family. One thing we consumed with ferocious appetite was data. In April & May 2020, we incurred over 1,000% of our usual expenses on data purchase. We connected the TV to YouTube and sang & danced, watched skits upon skits, watched JW Broadcasting videos, had worship sessions on zoom, preached through WhatsApp & zooms videos & calls.
We tried to mitigate the ills of device use by the children. We regulated the amount of time they spent by withholding and releasing the devices based on when they needed them. We also moderated the kind of Apps they use. Our requirement is that the Apps must have some value & if it is just play, we must regulate the time spent on them. No violent video games at all!
Eventually, we found the App ‘Family Link’ on the Play Store. That App is the bomb! Linking the children’s devices to ours, we can control when they use their devices, the amount of time they spend, the Apps they use, and the time they spend on each App. There is no need to physically confiscate their devices – you just lock it and you can get their attention. The children are not allowed to use social media with people outside the home.
We are also on the lookout for programs that can help them become Netizens such as boot camps for coding and robotics which the children regularly attend.
Some of the other things we have done:
- We set up a family group on ‘Hangout’ and then later transitioned to a WhatsApp group. We use the Group for our communication.
- We share jokes, news items, stories of human endurance and other materials we think would be good for the kids. For example, I once posted the story: ‘Brazilian Ballerina Born Without Arms Soars With Her Attitude’ found on YouTube & dropped the following questions which we discussed with the kids later:
- What is the condition of the Lady?
- How did she get it?
- What challenges does she face?
- What advice did her doctor give her?
- What is helping her cope?
- What support system does she have?
- What is the lesson from her story?
- What are we resolved to do?
- We have set up lots of challenges like ‘Read the Bible Daily’ where family members share points from their daily Bible reading; ‘Read a Book’ – kids read books & earn points and money; Research & Communication Challenge – Kids get a topic, research it, develop a presentation & make it.
- We set up quizzes. We got the questions mostly from our daily Bible readings, points from congregation meetings and conventions and general Bible knowledge. Sometimes our quizzes were on general knowledge.
- We have riddles – we do fast fingers where I post the questions and they are answered in real time. At other times we post the quizzes, allow time & then we discuss the answers later. We do not allow a day go by that we do not interact with the children. It is a lot of work but it has been worth it.
- I have set up a Telegram Group where I post the Bible quizzes; you may join and get questions you can use if you wish to adapt for your wards. The Telegram Link is below.
The most important lesson we learned in this journey with Devices is that you must be involved with your children’s use of the devices and that is what we have done so far. Whatever, you do try to be objective and not straitjacket in your thinking. If there are points here you want more elaboration on, feel free to reach me.
I wish you the best in your quest to help your wards make good use of devices and to turn out to be great & productive members of society.
*CLS Telegram Bible Quiz Link
*You can download JW Library from your App store. It contains all current publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Videos, Books, Animations, Talks, etc. Link to Play Store
*Family Link on Play Store is Here
*Caleb & Sophia are characters in the family-friendly animation series ‘become Jehovah’s friend’. You can find them in this link
*Brazilian ballerina born without arms soars with her attitude – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExLw2-NcxaI
Picture credits: Mother & Baby: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/most-2-year-olds-use-mobile-media-devices-042515#Parents-Quizzed-on-Youngsters-Habits; 2 Kids: https://www.techspot.com/news/73409-survey-finds-47-percent-parents-worry-their-child.html; Boy eating: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-47150658