Give them time to be kids

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The daylight slowly fades in the small backyard of our suburban home and the house is filled with the sounds of birds and children. The birds are retiring for their nightly rest but the kids show no signs of getting tired – or hungry! It’s 8:30pm and if I don’t insist they won’t come in for dinner.

Through the kitchen window I see my backyard transformed into a magical classroom where the children are exploring and learning and destroying my herbs garden. During daylight saving the kids end up going to bed at 10pm, but I don’t mind. At the end of the day I know they’ve been exposed to more sunlight than blue light from electronic devices and they’ve exercised their bodies and minds, not just their little fingers.

There is no denying that technology is an important part of children’s education but it saddens me that most children are spending more time staring at a screen than playing outdoors, reading, playing with friends or even interacting with a parent. The Department of Health recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day for children aged five and up but research suggests that over 58% of Australian children spend more than two hours per day consuming screen based media. The older they get the more they consume.

Those two recommended hours include screen time spent both on educational and recreational purposes but judging by my own kids, most of the time spent staring at a screen is unlikely to be on educational grounds. And what’s worse is that it’s more likely to be at the expense of time they were supposed to spend on good and old ‘free play’.

Free play for many children today means time on electronic gadgets. We all know they want and need to play with their devices – using their tablets, phones and computers wisely can be beneficial. But I think there is so much over parenting and over scheduling these days that children don’t have the time, and sometimes the freedom, required to strike a good balance between electronics and traditional play. And with limited time it looks like electronics always win!

As parents we have to think critically about how much we schedule or allow our children to cram in. My son this week announced he no longer wants to play soccer and I immediately went looking for other sports options. Thomas has turned down all alternatives, he said he just wants to be home. And that’s how it’s going to be. Sometimes I have to remind myself that my children won’t be traumatised or disadvantaged if they miss a sport’s season.

I don’t know if it’s just in my home but I find that when kids are not deprived of free time it’s easier to negotiate with them a better balance between screen and non-screen play, and once they engage on play that involves all their senses they end up forgetting about their devices.

When I look back at my childhood my happiest moments weren’t those in front of the TV watching The Flintstones or playing pac-man. One of my favourite memories is of my friends and I bringing home a litter of six kittens that we found in the neighbourhood. Childhood was about playing with other kids, exploring, getting into trouble, was about having time and being allowed to be kids.

Surely, we live in a different world today but while technology is an integral part of our lives and it is not our lives. I fear that without enough screen-free play our future adults will look back in their childhood and say that the best moments of their lives were spent on Minecraft. This will be a dull, conforming world, full of people disconnected to themselves and to others. But I still hope it won’t be so. I hope when the daylight slowly fades in the backyard of my grandchildren’s suburban home the house will be filled with the sounds of birds and children.

300 Words on Privilege

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Privilege: I’ve never had as much toys, books and gadgets as my kids have.

I struggle. I work hard. But I feel immensely privileged. I had the chance to choose whether to leave Brazil, my home country, and restart my life in a developed nation. There are close to 60 million people around the world that had to flee their homes due to war or persecution – they have nowhere to go, they have no choice. I was in a position to choose because I was born in a middle class family that knew the value of a good education. I had access to good schools and university and was able to qualify for a place in the skilled migration program. Of course I had to work hard to get there but my chances of having that opportunity would have been slim had I not had the privilege of my upbringing.

Until a few years ago I didn’t see most of my privileges as such – we don’t go through life looking for signs that we have more advantages than others, sometimes we even turn a blind eye. It can be very confronting to realise and acknowledge that many of our achievements in life are not attributed to us solely on merit. It can also be overwhelming because we are limited in what we can do as individuals to give others the rights they equally deserve. We can’t transfer or share a privilege with another person. As an individual I can’t give refugees the right to come and go, or an able body to a person with a physical disability, or shield social groups from prejudice.

It can be uncomfortable to become aware of our privileges and the inequalities that they create but it can also make us compassionate with ourselves we are all denied some privileges too and more empathetical towards other people’s suffering and misfortunes. Awareness can also help us stand up for equality and support policies that give everyone access to the resources they need and deserve.

Almost managing

We are entering week six of the new year and I’m looking back and thinking I’m already not managing ‘things’ as I set out to in the beginning of the year. I’m again rushing to drop the kids at school on time, losing my temper when the lunch boxes return home untouched (all the money wasted in organic vegetables!), stretching myself thin with work, not exercising as much as I wanted, not writing as often either. All the same things I was complaining about last year.

This year I also wanted to get more involved in the community, do more fun things with the kids, do more fun things with the husband without the kids, see my friends more… but as usual I continue to ignore the fact that each day only has 1440 minutes. Somehow I think I’ll be able to fit in just this one more activity in the day. Well, this year we have an extra 24 hours so maybe in 2016 it will be possible… nah!

No wonder I’m often running late – I always try to do one more thing just before I leave the house. When I picture this in my mind I see this manic woman with a strangling handbag hanging around her neck as she bends down and stretches her arms trying to squeeze the last dirt plates into the dishwasher so the dishes will be clean when she returns for dinner. Comical but not ha-ha funny.

So, today, Sunday, a day my do to list is as long as it’s in the weekdays, I took a break to reflect (we’ll have scrambled eggs for dinner). I’m not going to try to replicate the habits of the world’s most effective people or try to relish the power of positive thinking to change my busy life. The keywords for me this year are going to be ‘priority’ and ‘contentment.’ I know I have to do less and I’ll try to find more contentment in doing less – I just don’t have this ‘less’ figured out just yet. But that’s fine, although I’m not managing life like the gurus recommend, I’m still managing it with laughter – at least most days. I’m almost managing.