Dad’s Diary

Dad’s Diary

The other day, I awoke early and checked the time. For one strange half-awake moment, the second hand on my watch seemed to be moving unnaturally fast. It soon settled to its normal pace. This odd temporal misperception seemed like a warning of the speed at which time is passing by.

The parents of small children are inevitably harried. There’s no such thing as a night’s sleep. We are awakened at all hours to tend to small people crying, or suffering from bad dreams, accidents or illnesses. In our waking hours, there’s the morning’s panicked rush to get the gang ready and out the door to school and nursery. This involves a storm of breakfast cereal, lost socks, hairbrushes, missing lunchboxes and frantic searches for PE kits. Afternoons mean meals must be prepared, while the evenings are a rush to guides, brownies, rugby training and a million other things. Somewhere in-between all this, we must find time to work.

The lockdowns provided a blessed relief from all this. There was suddenly no rush to school in the morning, nor any clubs in the afternoons. The pace of life changed radically. A great deal of stress was lifted from the daily routine, despite the many downsides of lockdown. The other thing that happened in lockdown was a major easing of our once-strict rules about screen time. This was firstly because the older kids had to do all their schoolwork online. We felt bad that they couldn’t meet friends, so we increasingly let them socialise online by messaging groups of schoolfriends. As, during the lockdowns, the kids had no access to friends or clubs we also let them watch more movies than before. Soon, screen time mushroomed.

This was as global phenomenon, which even UNICEF noticed, with one of its experts writing last year that, “Today, about 3 billion people are in lockdown around the world — and almost 90% of the student population cut off from school. It’s no surprise that a lot of children and their parents are increasingly connecting to the outside world through screens they might have once regarded with restraint or even reproach.”

A strange new normal had been established worldwide. Certainly in our house, our once strict screen policies had lapsed for a time. Over summer, this wasn’t an issue, since the kids were out and about so much. Yet, as school returned, I noticed screens beginning to feature in their lives rather too much, and so I swiftly issued a ban. I took every single device the kids have and piled them up in my office, with a view to updating their security and age-settings. That was three weeks ago, and not one child has asked for a device back. Instead, they’re practically thanking me, by playing in the garden more, reading more and relaxing in the quiet. They’re going to bed earlier and sleeping better. They don’t miss messaging friends in school, which can cause misunderstandings and anxiety, but instead happily catch up with them face to face each day.

Above all, this is giving them slow time, thereby prolonging the beautiful time of life that is childhood. I’ve always felt haunted by the research which suggests technology use speeds up our perception of time. Amongst other researchers, Prof. Zimbardo of Stanford university has argued that our personal “time zone” can be changed by technology, by speeding up our internal clock. That matches my own experience, and the same must go for children too. The connectivity provided by technology helped us all get through the pandemic, but now it’s time to unplug and reset.