You unplug if you want to. The Internet makes me a better parent

Update: After writing this the founder of National Unplugging Day commented and listened to all your fabulous feedback. A few days later the website was dramatically re-written and is now much less judgemental. Gone are the stories of children literally begging for attention and getting NO eye contact from their parents, to the detriment of their emotional well being. My thoughts on the subject haven’t changed, but it is fantastic to see that changes can be made just my saying what you think and if that means that a strung out parent who is concerned about their technology usage visits the page and doesn’t feel worse then I feel as if I and you have done a good thing. 

I have read countless blog posts over the years telling me that I should unplug more, switch off my phone, not use social media, preaching about how much better my life would be if I did so. The irony that these posts are written by bloggers who work very hard to keep an online presence is not lost on me. Now, it seems a website (again irony metre off the scale) is getting in on the act by encouraging parents to take part in National Unplugging Day. To put our technology away for the day, for the sake of the children. They are asking us to do something different instead, like go on a bike ride or go to the park or simply a walk in the woods. It all smacks of making us feel guilty for being too interested in what we are reading and sharing on the Internet, rather than spending ‘quality time’ with our children. Well, you can unplug if you want to, but I shan’t be, because I know that social media and the internet in general, makes me a better parent.

Firstly, let’s deal with this myth that using our phones prevents us from doing things with our children. I take my children on bike rides and to the park. (Ok, so I pretty much loathe going to the park, but they don’t know that) I bake with them, play with them, craft with them, go the allotment with them, play board games with them, talk with them. I read. I laugh. I listen. I walk. I run. I do all this and still send tweets and share pictures on social media. I do it and still find time to read blogs and the news and yes, waste time reading gossip about One Direction and Bradley Cooper. My children don’t beg me to put my phone down, they hardly notice it. There are many times in the day when they are otherwise engaged. These times are often short lived, but there are definitely little pockets of time. They don’t need and nor should they have my undivided attention all day, every day. They wouldn’t want it!

I get the idea that we should be ‘present’ with them when we spend time with them and I won’t pretend I always am, but it’s not social media that is making my mind wander. It’s the fact that my house is messy, or I haven’t had the chance to put any bread in the breadmaker, because I haven’t had a moment when they’ve left me alone for five minutes. It’s the nagging feeling that I need to look at my credit card bill or renew mine and the children’s library books that makes me not want to sing ‘Wind the Bobbin up’ for the 20th time. All of this though is really about how the internet doesn’t make me a worse parent and I have stated that it makes me a better parent and it does.

Sharing on social media makes me notice things more and record things. I notice my children and what they are doing, I record it and I share it. The last part of that process isn’t necessary, I know, it’s just fun, but the first two bits are vital. I have a brilliant record of our life, the trivial, minute bits of it and I love that. I love looking back on it already and so do they. Inspired by someone I follow on Instagram, I recently made some mini videos of our day. We didn’t do anything special or different. Nano biked to school, we played, we visited the allotment, but it made such a special snippet of our day that I can look at for many years. In fact, yesterday after school Mini Mck asked if we could make a family video on Saturday. I love sharing this creativity with them and technology is going to part of their lives, why not show them what it can do.

Most of what I read and search out online is inspiring. I defy you to read this post and not become more patient the next time you feel more needed than you think you can handle. I can name at least three things I have done with my three year old, just in the last couple of weeks, that have come from Pinterest ideas. I know that when I am having a bad moment I can turn to social media and find a heap of support, delivered in a non-smug, totally understanding way, that will both make me feel better and make me pull my socks up and be a better parent. From other parents that I communicate with on-line I learn about places to take my children and things to do with them. I learn how to handle situations better, to be more patient, to laugh at a bad day, or nod knowingly at someone else’s. My world is bigger because of the internet, not smaller.

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The parents that I know and follow on-line and basically I am talking about you, the people who read this blog, are some of the best parents I have ever come across. They are creative and hard-working, they notice the details, they treasure the everyday, they want to be the best they can for themselves and their community and their kids and they inspire me every day.

So ‘National Unplugged Day’ can try it’s best to make plugged in parents feel as bad as possible on June 28th as it preaches to us to frolic through the woods on our  bikes. I may partake in some good old fashioned fun myself, but I’ll probably have a nice photo to go along with it and I refuse to feel guilty or lesser because of that.

NB – No children were neglected in the writing of this blog 😉

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40 thoughts on “You unplug if you want to. The Internet makes me a better parent

  1. Totally agree. I feel the same when people talk about Instagram (for example) disparagingly, and say that we are distancing ourselves, that it’s enough to just have the experience, etc. Actually, it often helps me cherish the moments and make me *more* present. Nice to ‘meet’ you, I’m going to Blogtacular too, which is how I found you.

  2. I’d never have met you if it wasn’t for my phone! Throughout pregnancy you’ve often proved more helpful than my midwife – worrying, I know… I feel so much less terrified about what’s ahead as a new parent knowing you oh lovely one are going to be just at the end of a Tweet – whilst working on that tan at the allotment. Great post xxx

      1. Pull yourself together. Ultimately you and VW will have taught me all I’ll know / implement so on the rubbish days I’ll blame you entirely, of course.

  3. Very well said indeed. Not to mention all of those advice forums that made me feel less lonely and more capable when I had a little baby. I really think the internet makes me a better parent. I do want to try to put my phone away more, but that’s just because I need to be better at focusing all my attention on one thing at a time – it’s not to do with the internet itself.

  4. Love this! Absolutely agree – staring at a phone non-stop while ignoring your kids is obviously bad, but to say you should unplug completely doesn’t make sense.

  5. Saw this on Tots100. Yes, I totally agree with you! Gahhh! What is it with people judging everyone – it’s passive aggressive guilt-tripping! A friend shared the Switch off day on FB only yesterday. You could have heard my eyes rolling!

  6. I couldn’t agree more either. Being on social media has made me want to record the moments that aren’t recorded in my life and it gives me the space to do so without using hundreds of physical albums or scrapbooks that I don’t have the physical space for.

  7. Great post, and one that a lot of parents will agree with.

    Yes sometimes N tells me to not take photos, so I don’t. Sometimes he asks me to do something when I’m on the laptop, so I do. The rest of the time, he doesn’t notice because he’s on the farm with his dad, or out in the garden. The alternative would be me cleaning the house which I’d rather avoid with anything if it isn’t really urgent.

    We spend lots of our weekends and evenings together and love that time, but we also need time to just be with each other, but doing independent things. I don’t feel guilty. (It’s more the OH who moans, but then he’s miserable and if it was his choice there’d be no memories or photos collected for N in the future…bit hypocritical when he likes to look back and remember his old family photos!)

  8. A great post Emily, thanks for putting another side forward. It’s interesting that you feel we are trying to make parents feel guilty about using their digital devices as for us, this couldn’t be further from the reason we set up this day. Everything about National Unplugging Day is coming from a positive place. As a mum of three children under 8 and an avid digital user, I am using the stats we recently analysed and the ever increasing ‘digital detox’ movement to bring awareness to those that may need it or want to find a better balance between their off-line & on-line activities.

    At no point is National Unplugging Day an attempt to make anyone feel guilty. It’s a positive occasion, coming from a positive place to help families UK wide come together on one day to have some fun. We have deliberately put together a whole range of competitions to enable families to do something different at no cost to them.

    Our site has had over 110,000 hits in 3 days which I believe is a positive indication that there is a need for more awareness, tips and advice on how to master digital usage rather than be controlled by it.

    I completely agree with you that digital can make you a better parent depending on how you use it. I don’t believe there is any need from any corner to judge and be negative. NationalUnpluggingDay.co.uk is a fun event for anyone who wants to get involved.

    1. I afraid I have to disagree with you. All the content I’ve read on the site come across as quite preachy and judgemental. This is just a bit I read on the first page I opened.

      “Ever seen that look in your children’s eyes or heard that extended cry of “Mumeeeee” or “Dadeeeee” as they fight to grab your attention over that smartphone, tablet or electronic device? Little hands pulling at your clothes or their voices getting increasingly louder until you look up, stop whatever you think is so important, and…”

      This gives the impression that parents are actively ignoring their children even when they are pleading with us to stop. I completely agree that sensible use of technology is important and you are suggesting that parents don’t do that.
      I’ve been surprised with how many digitally active parents have agreed with this post and so clearly feel that they are being judged.
      How many hits you’ve had on your site doesn’t necessarily tell you that people agree with you or that they are going to join in unplugging day.
      I think when we see parents using technology around their children and judge them harshly, we are doing this with no knowledge of their situation or what’s happened to them that day.

  9. This is such an interesting debate. When I saw National Unplugging Day mentioned on Facebook I was really interested in the idea, as balancing my digital usage when I’m around the children is an ongoing battle (my challenge is that I work hard work from home so I’m trying hard to be better about keeping to set working hours rather than letting my work bleed into the time with the kids). But when I visited the website I found the language used very negative and did immediately feel judged, rather than feeling inspired to take part. I think judging the person you see at the children’s centre, in the playground etc based on how you see them interacting with their child in the short time you’re there is really unfair – that tiny pocket of time may be no indication of how they parent in general and you have absolutely no idea what they’re dealing with at that moment. Why not support parents, rather than make them feel guilty?

    1. Thank you Heather, we appreciate your feedback and I think we should most certainly look at our language and change it to be more accommodating. Thank you all for your feedback, it’s very important to us and we want to create a positive change for those that need and want it.

      If anyone would like to contribute tips / blog posts on the site please get in touch, we’d be happy to share your views.

      1. Thanks for your response Gemma!

        I’m not sure if you meant parents at children’s centres in your ‘about the day’ page or more generally just soft play places/playgrounds etc. From a personal angle, when my twins were babies/toddlers I was finding life really tough, and I used to go to a children’s centre or play place for an hour’s respite to stop myself drowning at home. It was an hour when I knew the kids were safe and entertained and it gave me some time to regroup before giving myself back over to my kids. And yes, I would often spend some time on my phone. I’d hate to think that people there were judging me for that, and deciding that my kids were getting a raw deal, (especially at children’s centres which are specifically there to offer support to parents when they need it most).

        I’d love to see some practical, everyday tips for getting a better balance with our digital devices on your site as encouragement to form better habits perhaps. Maybe about only checking emails at a certain time every day (rather than every five minutes), and making sure phones are put away when sat at the table for mealtimes for example?

  10. This is a really refreshing post to read and it’s made me realise – I have been beating myself up over ideas from other people that my online presence is harmful but actually, it isn’t and I can measure myself x

  11. Great post and couldn’t agree more. I am a better parent for finding out more about things and for having friends like yourself, which being unplugged I wouldn’t have. xx

  12. Oh.My.Goodness. I could have written this post. It’s says EXACTLY what I feel about my relationship with my kids and t’interwebs. Of COURSE it makes us better parents. Brilliant. I’ve now “liked” you all over the web. 😉 And will be sharing this too.

  13. Great post. I agree that blogs provide a great record of childhood and that it’s fabulous to have photos and take notice. I don’t agree that being on the phone doesn’t distract you from being present when you’re with children – I think it does. But I take that view coming from a similar position to you – I work online and I have to sometimes work when I’m with my children. Personally I feel that I’m doing them a disservice, I know they don’t have my full attention when I’m having to email or speak to a client. But it’s great to read your views on it, maybe I should give myself a break.xx

    1. I think it can take focus sometimes, but I think life in general does. We need to be far better at not clouding our attention I think. Well, I do anyway!

  14. This is a really great point and I have to say that I agree with you, I think you are right, children don’t need our undivided attention 24/7 and we get small pockets of time to ourselves, so we can do the housework, check social media, maybe even brush our hair!
    I also agree there is a lot of inspiration out there I have read a couple of posts this week about activities that I can’t wait to try with Boo and I would never have come up with them alone.
    I have lots of beautiful photos for Boo because I found out about things like project 365 – so not only do I have the ones I share but also many many more – and all the practise means I am a little better at photography than I was – not all of them have heads cut off!!

  15. I agree with you on this one – there are many positives to the internet. The suggestion to unplug for a day is one that makes me step back and take a moment to be a little more mindful of my internet and social media usage. Yes my blog might distract me at times but it also makes me better at making sure I spend time doing crafts with my children and getting out and about with them as well as keeping a lovely record of those things and helping me connect with other parents.

  16. Great post. I have to admit that my five year old has occasionally said to both me and my husband “mummy/daddy stop fiddling with your phone” but on the other hand he often wants my attention while I’m cooking or doing some other necessary household chore too. I definitely agree that I get a lot of advice, support and ideas from the online community and its definitely a matter of getting the right balance. X

  17. Love this Emily! So true, I think I have found the newborn stage so much easier second time round because I had so much social media to keep me going. I love being with my children and doing fun things but I love recording it too, completely agree xx

  18. Fab post and totally agree. Comments such as “They’re missing it” (regarding parents on phones) really wind me up as I’m usually organising a play date, checking local children’s events calendars or looking for ideas and advice on craft or general parenting problems. Well said! And, actually, if I am daring to read something non child related – so what?! I do tonnes of stuff with my children, they don’t feel the need to ring childline because I’m reading an article in the guardian.

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