World Television Day: Screen time vs. family time

There’s no doubt technology is taking over family life. And that has increased drastically as the internet and social media have joined distractions from Television, (TV) cell phone and the computer. Even when we leave our homes and offices, we are greeted with huge screens on our roads, talking about advert billboards some are mobile others are stationary. Even the church these days is not spared, walk into any “happening” church today and you get to choose which screen you wish to view the preacher and if possible interpreter. Even before the preacher comes up, you would have seen a thousand and one adverts or announcements flashed on the screens, denying us the time to connect with family and friends.
Once upon a time, the family’s biggest technological nuisance was the phone ringing during dinner or late at night. Twenty-four hour TV programming, the Internet and cell phones didn’t permeate the privacy of our homes. School stayed at school, work stayed at work, and those boundaries were never crossed except in emergency which were very few and far apart. Today, between responding to e-mails during kids’ activities, texting at meals, and constant phone time while driving, we use technology almost as much as our teens who according to 2011 Nielsen statistics, send and receive around 3,700 texts a month – that’s about 125 a day!
Family dynamics have totally changed, today’s lingo is LMAO, TTYL, HBD LLNP, BRB, BFF, OMG, and L8R; and young people aren’t the only ones using them. Add Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and Twitter to the vocabulary, and the nuclear family is virtually unrecognizable. This dynamic creates slight feelings of jealousy and distress in children since they now have to compete for both their parents’ time and attention.
The dining table or the centre table (for those who didn’t have one) used to be a haven from the outside world and a chance to reconnect. Remember how wives would not eat until their husbands come home? Dinner today is often a frenzied event where family members tend to be distracted during meal by the computer, cell phone or TV. Or they can’t wait to finish and get back to these devices.
Today, work doesn’t end just because we leave the office; in fact, organizations equip their employees with laptops and smart phones so employees are accessible 24/7, they go a step further to take subscriber plans that allow for unlimited calls at affordable rates or even free. It used to be doctors getting emergency calls, these days we have all kinds of emergencies, technology emergencies, sales emergencies, accounting emergencies, and the list goes on and on. Even schools send out messages – announcements about homework and events, so kids are not left out from getting “business” as well as social messages when they are home.
A group of children, between 4-6 years, were asked whether they would want to watch TV or hang out with their dad. Dear old dad lost out! According to an A.C. Nielsen report, 54 percent of kids preferred to spend time with the TV. It’s a sad when Ben 10 or Barney, however educational or fun, wins out over quality time with a parent.
So what can we do?
Make quality time for family; take dinning and other times spent together more seriously. One mother insists that all family members put their electronic devices in a basket when they come through the door and retrieve them only after dinner is over. Not a bad idea.
One benefit of family is that children learn the give and take of society – how to interact with other people, and how to communicate. However, with technology becoming more deeply integrated into all facets of life, we run the risk of raising a generation who can’t relate to other people. So, if your children tend to spend most of their time on social media, texting, watching TV or playing video games, encourage them to go talk to or spend time with friends, or at least with you and other family members. It goes back to setting limits; your children’s social life won’t fall apart if they don’t reply 100 texts or watch their favourite cartoon for that day.
If you limit screen time for your children, do the same for yourself too. You don’t want to lose your job of course, but you may want to reconsider how much work you do at home because you “have to” as against what you do because you can, and your computer is right there.
Parents can manage family time much like screen time. Just like we use any given opportunity to look up our emails , reply a chat, or ‘like’ a friend’s hot photo on Facebook, we can also use every opportunity we get to close up any ‘gap’ screen time could have created in our family time.
Parenting is tougher today than ever before, with unlimited gaming, computer and TV time; but we must not allow interpersonal face-to-face interaction that binds the family together disintegrate.

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