It’s fair to say we’re a pretty tech-heavy family. With an IT teacher as a father and a vlogger / blogger as a mum, our girls are growing up surrounded by gadgetry and technology. But recently, we did something that some may view as kind of extreme and hypocritical: we banned our kids from using the iPad. It didn’t start as an attempt to create a retro childhood for our children or to give them a “free-range” experience, but that’s sort of what it’s turned into.
Put simply, the iPad ban was a last-ditch attempt to solve a problem that seemed to be getting increasingly out of hand. At six years old, Frog was becoming obsessed with the iPad. She’d sneak onto it at every available opportunity, ignoring anything else going on around her. It would take every ounce of persuasion to get her off it and, even then, her attention span would last approximately five minutes before she was pleading to go back on it.
One of the things I remember loving most about being a kid was getting outdoors and making up imaginary games outside with my friends. Frog was missing out on the simple pleasures of mud kitchens and making dens because all she wanted to do was watch random videos of people playing with toys on YouTube, and download a million My Little Pony games from the app store. When asked if she wanted to go outside and play she’d respond with “It’s boring!” and then, inevitably, have a huge tantrum when the iPad eventually got taken away.
A recent study into the best things about childhood fifty years ago got me thinking: are all the toys and gadgets around these days always a healthy thing? Researchers at McCarthy and Stone polled the over 60s in a huge survey on the subject of childhood, asking what the best thing about their own time growing up fifty years ago was. Perhaps unsurprisingly, right there at the top of the list was “Playing outside until it got dark”. Third on the list was “Knowing all your neighbours” and at number five it was “Making dens”.
These are all things my own kids love too but, unfortunately, the distraction of the iPad was creating too much of a pull for Frog, spoiling any enjoyment she had doing anything else. We’d be out on a walk, building a den, and she’d already be asking if she could go on the iPad when we got back home. Some weekend mornings she’d wake up at 5am, because she was so eager to get onto the iPad. She would happily have stayed in her pyjamas, locked to the screen all day if we’d have let her.
And so we banned it.
It wasn’t a decision we took lightly. We’d already attempted reducing her time on it, putting a timer lock on it so it would switch off after a set time. When that didn’t work we tried just letting her have it when she wanted, thinking that perhaps taking away the restrictions around it would make it seem less appealing. No such luck. So we got rid of it altogether. We changed the pass codes, deleted the apps and encouraged Frog to revert to her LeapFrog tablet if she needed a technology hit.
The effect was almost immediate. The first weekend without the iPad was like a revelation. Frog didn’t even ask for it, because she knew it had gone. We had a family day out, walking through the woods, building dens, playing Poohsticks – all the retro activities you’d find on the McCarthy and Stone survey – and she didn’t once ask when we would be going home.
Now, four months on, the iPad has made a quiet return back into family life, but we’re determined that it’s not going to have the hold it once did over our six year old. In fact, Frog doesn’t seem that bothered by it (at the moment anyway). Instead, on those quiet afternoons when her baby sister’s napping she’d rather have a family movie afternoon or play Snakes and Ladders.
Obviously technology has a place in childhood – these are the kids of the future and all (IT teacher for a husband, remember; you’re speaking to the converted) – but scaling it right back and going a bit retro has, for us, been hugely worth it.
How do you handle technology in your house? If you were to poll your own kids about their favourite childhood activities, what do you think they’d be?
Thanks to McCarthy and Stone for working with me on this post. For more details of how I work with brands check out my Work with Me page.