Stories to Grow By
April 2023 Newsletter
In this edition: Stories to Grow By shares a message from a friend about children and screen time, exploring internet safety, and showcases "Cinderella", with new updates!
A Message From Our Friends
Sharing insights from new friends
Hi everyone, Josh here, the Executive Director of Stories to Grow By. I am happy to be able to share an insightful write up about children and screen time from a new friend of Stories to Grow By. A few weeks ago I was connected with Ennes Higgins. Ennes is a wonderful children's book author who is sharing an important message about screen time and children's relationship with technology. At Stories to Grow By, our mission is to provide stories with positive themes centered around human ethics to children all around the world. Ennes supports our mission and we believe the story shared with us from Ennes, supports that too. So, without further ado I will turn it over to Ennes - please enjoy the insightful write up:
The Epic Battle For Screentime In Our House
By: Ennes Higgins
Screentime is a constant battle in our house! My 15y-old spends hours on her phone and tablet – goodness knows what she does since she prefers to keep her door closed and the world at bay. My 13y-old is crazy about posting funny little dance videos. My 11y-old constantly chats with her friends about anything and everything and my 8y-old is engrossed in his Minecraft world, where he meets with his friends online while talking to them simultaneously on his mobile phone. And when they are not on their portable devices, they play on their gaming consoles, or they simply watch TV.
“What kind of mother are you?” I hear you say. “Why don’t you limit your kid’s screentime? Why do you not know what your 15y-old is looking at? And why on earth does your 8y-old have his own mobile phone?”
OK – let me explain… Firstly, I would like to put your mind at ease – all my children’s devices are connected to my parent control app and I can set daily limits and bedtimes. I can also restrict times for certain apps or block them completely and I can make other apps available although the phone has gone into sleep mode. I can check how much time they spend using which app. I can even turn off their devices at the push of a button. Yes, I had a lot of time during the pandemic and various lockdowns to overcome my personal technophobia and become a tech nerd!
Why does your 8y-old have a phone? Because I want him to be independent. I want him to be able to take the bus home from school. I want him to know how to check the bus times on the fantastic app issued by our public transport provide and I want him to be able to book his ticket through the app. He is under strict instructions to only buy the 4-ticket bundle for short trips at reduced fare. As with his older siblings before, setting this up has led to numerous conversations about how busses operate, how to work out on which side of the road his bus will arrive, what happens if he misses a bus, what types of tickets there are and so much more. We live in Berlin, Germany, so public transport is a dream – and I couldn’t be prouder of my little 8y-old travelling all the way home from school by himself. It gives him such a surge of confidence and I just know he will be safe when we eventually expand his roaming circle.
Why do you let your 13y-old post unlimited dance videos? Because I love how she uses this medium to express herself. She is quite shy and awkward around others and would NEVER join the school drama, dance or singing events. She would never go on stage – despite the fact that she has a lovely voice and great moves. This gives her a platform to explore her skills and be a little more daring as she feels comfortable to be in real life. When she opened her first publicly open YouTube channel a couple of years ago and posted her first video, which attracted hundreds of likes from total strangers within a few hours, we had long and deep conversations about cyber safety and digital citizenship. She now has private accounts which are visible to friends and family only. Having seen some of her videos and “movie trailers”, I cannot but marvel at the creativity she has hidden inside her rather quite persona.
Why do you let your 11y-old videocall her friends all afternoons? Because she is a highly social person and I want her to able to grow her interpersonal skills. Building strong networks is a hugely important skill no matter what her career development will entail. Practicing this during her pre-teen years, when it is mostly about school stuff and a bit of gossip gives her a safe environment to do so. Of course, there are pitfalls – friends that turn out not to be your friends anymore. Friends that forward your secrets to people you didn’t want to know these secrets. All very important lessons. Watching how she videocalls her friends to help them with their math homework shows me that she is heading the right way and growing into an amazingly empathetic and helpful human being.
And why on earth do you let your 15y-old do goodness-knows-what on her tablet without any supervision? Because I have to trust her. She is so close to being a fully-fledged adult who is entirely responsible for making her own decisions that I have to let her practice how to manage her own time and screen exposure. Having been diagnosed with Dyslexia and ADD she has had quite a journey. Electronic devices have played a huge part in her conquering her shortcomings. She uses a laptop in school to take notes. She uses speech-to-text software and she reads ebooks on her tablet. She supports her ebook reading with running the audiobook at the same time and she literally inhales one book after the other. We have had so many conversations about how important it is for her to have a reliable electronic filing system so she can navigate her work and resources and we are constantly on the lookout for new apps to help her conquer her condition. And of course, we do talk about what she does online, who she chats with, what kind of pics and clips she posts. Watching this child, who has developed from the kid-who-couldn’t-read into this book-devouring teenager filles me with so much pride.
I am a firm believer that we live in a rapidly changing world and that the skillsets our children will need in order to successfully navigate this world is substantially different to the skillset considered relevant for previous generations. It will certainly include mastering the digital realm. It is already noticeable in their school life. Although they are physically back to school after pandemic-induced school closures, they have a virtual classroom, where information and assignments are posted, they use a math website to solve math questions relating to their curriculum – and the portal is so clever that it selects the next question based on their performance and thus builds individual learning paths tailored to each individual child’s learning progress.
My 15y-old navigates herself all over Berlin in order to meet up with friends. My 13y-old is now contemplating auditioning for her school’s next Musical project. My 11y-old is our resident Systems Administrator. Whenever we have any issues regarding hardware or software, she is our first point of call. And 9 out of 10 times she succeeds in finding a solution. My 8y-old is perfectly capable of using google maps to work out where he is, and where he can find the next bus stop. He has also managed to keep a remote friendship going with a little boy we have met during a skiing holiday 2 years ago – by connecting with him online and playing Minecraft together. Their digital activities are contributing to their personal growth – and not just a bit!
Obviously, it isn’t quite as easy as I make it sound. It requires a lot of parental time and input. Like – A LOT!
I want my kids to develop healthy digital habits – and we have had endless conversations. About what can happen if you send compromising pictures of yourself to someone online. About the consequence of revealing your home address online. Or when and where you are headed for holidays. About whether cutsy13 is actually a 13y old girls like she claims or just a facade for a much more sinister character. Luckily, or school is very hot on the topic, so the kids get the same message on multiple channels.
We also have strict rules. All devices have maximum daily time limits and set bedtimes. Certain apps can only be used for a certain amount of time per day. Other can be used even if the phone is in bedtime mode – that way I know the kids can access their public transport app, google maps, and other applications they may need in case of emergencies.
I am following all of their accounts – yes, this involves my trusting that they do not have set up additional accounts. I have pins and passwords to their phones and accounts, and I have the right to confiscate their devices at any time and check. I try not to do this as I am also trying to teach them that they their personal space is sacred. But the latent threat is there…
The older ones now have private Social Media accounts where they can post personal things and they also have public accounts. We have an agreement, that no personal information can be posted on these. And no faces. My 15y-old uses her public account to promote our dogs. My 13y-old posts interior design shots without appearing herself.
When any of them are travelling without me, they HAVE TO share their live location with me so that I can see where they are at any given time. If they arrive at a destination, they send me a quick text. When they are on their way home, the let me know their estimated time of arrival.
There are no TVs in any of our bedrooms. Not the kids – and not mine.
When we have playdates at our house, I confiscate tablets and phones – even if this makes me Mean Mummy in front of all their friends. And if they absolutely want to produce some videos or clips, they only get their screens for a clearly defined period of time.
For sleepovers, I confiscate all screens. This doesn’t always win me bonus points with my kids and their friends, but I can totally live with that. I have spoken with my kids about how the human brain functions, how the frontal cortex works, and that decision making is severely compromised the later the evening. Our deal is always that they can stay up as long as they like – as long as everybody is in bed and using whisper voices. This works a treat since without digital stimulation, they usually drop off one after the other before too long…
And of course, there is my exclusive use of the Termination Button…
I have asked you three times to come down to dinner and you are still not here? Snap – all your devices turned off with immediate effect.
You promised to stack the dishwasher and all the dirty plates are still on the kitchen surface? Snap – all your devices are turned off with immediate effect.
You think it is ok to raise your voice when talking back to me? Snap - all your devices are turned off with immediate effect.
Yes, I do get a little power-drunk when using the Termination Button. Which is why I try not to do it too often…
But of course, there is so much more to raising independent, thoughtful children. Despite my raving that kids SHOULD have screen time, we still constantly have the battle in our house that they are all spending too much time on their screens and should be engaging in other activities… anything will do - help me cook, play in the garden, dust off the ping-pong table, groom the dog, play a boardgame, read a book….
I know that digital skills are not the be all and end all – children also need to develop their motor skills, concentration, communication, ability to collaborate, and so much more… and I totally embrace that it is our job as parents to provide opportunities for this.
I feel this constant battle between allowing them to develop their digital skills while wishing they would enjoy conventional activities more. I feel this deep inside me. I suspect there is a lot of projection involved – after all, my generation has these awesome childhood memories of roaming the woods without our parents having any idea where we were – as long as we were home by the time the streetlights came on…
I feel this struggle so deep inside me, that I had to allow it to bust out. So I wrote a book. In fact, I already wrote two more…
My children’s book series ‘Lola’s Adventures’ embraces this conflict between screentime and free play. Lola and her siblings also spend too much time in front of their screen. Nana notices this and sends all four of them on an errand. She asks them to tidy the barn or harvest some runner beans for dinner or go for a swim or collect some firewood.
Every time the kids get taken away from their digital activities, they moan about having their screens taken away. And every time it is the beginning of one of the most amazing adventures.
When they start tidying up the barn, they encounter some horrifying dragons and need to figure out a way to tame them.
When harvesting beans in the garden, they shrink down to the size of an apple and help a tooth fairy find their first tooth.
When going for a swim, they discover a treasure chest which is guarded by a vicious octopus.
When collecting firewood, they meet two terrifying giants who want to eat their brother Toby.
Lola always struggles to immerse herself in these make-believe games. She takes herself back to the house, where Nana may allow her a brief period back on her tablet – so she can do some research. This plays to Lola’s strengths and enables her to bring fresh ideas to her sibling’s game.
Writing these stories has confirmed for me that as long as us parents are strong enough to stand our ground and establish digital-free spaces and as long as we are prepared to deal with the fallout of our children being mad at us, and as long as we are firm enough to whether the teenage wrath, we will witness how the most beautiful and imaginative and creative games and activities will unfold.
I would be delighted if Lola’s Adventures could serve as a hook for you to have one of those conversation about safe digital habits with your children – while enjoying the amazing adventures Lola and her siblings find themselves in.
A Cinderella Story
April 2023 Featured Story
The classic tale of Cinderella, with a Stories to Grow By twist! Cinderella has been Stories to Grow By's most popular story ever since it was published. We wanted to feature it now as we have just updated it with new illustrations and we think they support bringing this story to life.
The classic tale: a girl named Cinderella lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters. Poor Cinderella had to work hard all day long so the others could rest. One day she gets a special visit and is able to attend a royal ball where she meets a prince...
Read "Cinderella" For FREE By Clicking HERE!
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