By Renuka Ramroop

For a long time I was in a warm comfort zone regarding my kids and their lack of interest in technology or television. I am from the camp that do not see any ‘real’ value in technology for young kids – believing firmly that kids need to be immersed in nature and other ‘real’ things rather than early exposure to any forms of technology. I knew that at some point they will ‘discover’ it and I will have to respect it. However, I did not actively encourage them. It was rather easy for us as parents because we are not into television and computers. We use it for work, as tools and not for entertainment. However, I was really tested when my children became exposed to games on the tablet during a holiday with their cousins. After observing their enjoyment and immersion in the games on a tablet I felt rather conflicted and after some thought and discussion with my husband we offered to buy them one. We reasoned that even though we did not like it we should not deny them this newfound joy. To my great surprise, they emphatically said that they did not want one. They said it was fine to play games on the tablet while they were on holiday but they did not want one at home because they have their own things to do at home. I was taken aback but so happy and proud of their decision. And so went a couple of years with them spending most of their time on their key interests; nature, music, reading, sport and spending time with their best buddies in the bush, finding frogs to picking blackberries. Screen time was a rare event in the house. Happiness……

However, recently (kids now age 15 and 13) I noticed that they have increased their screen time, especially with WhatsApp and games on the phone. One day, I walked into my daughter’s room and noticed that she had quickly hid the phone. I was upset because I did not want that sort of relationship with them. Thus far, I was proud of the open and wonderful relationship we had. When I asked her why she did that she said she knows my views on technology and knows that I will disapprove of what she was doing. I was taken aback that my views on technology and playing games were impacting negatively on our relationship. I tried to show a more relaxed behaviour in the weeks that followed. But I realised that I was just fooling myself. I do have strong views about technology and young kids and no matter how hard I tried to be open and relaxed about it I was feeling more and more like a fraud. After much thought, I decided to be frank with myself and my kids.

I explained to them that I did not have to approve of or like everything they choose to do.

I have my strong opinions on technology and it would be dishonest of me to pretend to like it. But that did not mean that they should stop their screen time. I explained to them that they do not need to seek my approval for what they would like to do. My approval would be nice but it is not compulsory. The difference is that they need to be assertive about what they want to do and communicate that to me. And while I may not approve, I do need to respect their decision. This is all within reason, of course. We are a family and we are in a partnership in this journey. This means that we all need to be aware of each other and each other’s needs within this partnership. It does not mean that I need to indulge in everything my kids like/do, nor should I pretend to like it. It would be dishonest of me and I think my honesty in this relationship and my role-modelling of that ‘honesty’ is more important than any ‘pretend approval’. My role in this space is to respect and demonstrate respect. Their role is to learn to be strong and assertive in what they want and how they go about achieving it. I realised that the natural learning or ‘unschooling’ approach is easy when the choices our kids make are in line with our values – but there comes a time, as they grow older, when this may no longer hold. Thus, my response to my kids; if they are playing games or WhatsApping on the phones and I show that I do not approve, it is my issue not theirs. However, if games are being played at the cost of other things, like feeding the dogs, then I would intervene and ask them to stop and do what needs to be done.

This incident re-affirmed for me that honesty, rights, responsibilities and understanding the partnership we have with each other as members of the family are fundamentals for our ‘natural learning’ or ‘unschooling’ journey. This realisation, expressing my feelings and the rich discussions I had with my kids on this issue, was very liberating for us all. These days we are all more relaxed with technology. My ‘disapproval’ still exists but now we can also joke about it. We have a deeper understanding and respect for each other and how we function as a family. They are still very active in their old interests and most times they pepper their day with the phone or the computer. I see that they would still choose to be outside with their friends and doing some activity over screen time. They explained to me that screen is a way to pass some time in between their other interests. Thus, this issue allowed us to really reflect and to come up with very respectful ways to relate to each other – where we acknowledge that we are all different people with sometimes differing points of view. We need to learn to stay true to who we are and the opinions we hold dear while at the same time respecting other people’s points of view and how they choose to spend their time.

This journey is just so amazing.