Using Screen Time For Good

My 7-year-old is a reluctant reader.  Truth be told, he is a reluctant almost everything good for him.  This has frustrated me to no end and is essentially the reason why I decided to homeschool him.  With most things, he has good and bad days.  Though with reading, we really didn’t make any progress.

I have never, in his seven years, seen him pick up a book voluntarily and just read.  He even shuns programs like Reading Eggs. When I want him to read books I have to be there beside him, and even then he refuses. Finally, he succumbs to a compromise of reading a page each, usually insisting on reading the ones with more picture and less text.

This is contrary to anything I’ve ever experienced.  I have always loved reading and can’t imagine a life without books.  I spent countless hours as a child with my head in a book, imagining make-believe places, sharing in the excitement and fears of the characters, and always wishing it was me going on the adventures.

Likewise, his three older siblings have also loved reading. My second, in particular, was practically born obsessed with books.  As a toddler, she would walk about the house carrying books with her everywhere.  At the age of three, she would pile up a stack of books so high on her bedside table that I would have to remove them each night, worried it would collapse and fall on her head as she slept.  Unfortunately, though, my seven-year-old appears to have taken his lead from his older brother, who at some point discovered that reading wasn’t considered cool by his peers and by the time master seven was old enough to notice, his older brother had long given up on books.

I have tried everything to pique his interest. I have started off books with him, hoping once his interest was sparked that he would continue on his own.  The first half of the plan would work, he would become absorbed, asking for more. Unfortunately, however, his laziness would overpower his interest, having to actually read himself was just not worth the effort. I’ve taken him to libraries and tried buying him books on topics or characters he is interested in, he just begs for me to read it for him.  In desperation I even went on a homeschooling page on Facebook asking for advice, I was actually shot down by some who thought I shouldn’t be forcing my values on him and that I should just let him be.  Ummm thanks, but no thanks.

Then the other day when complaining about the situation to my husband, he turned to me and said: “You need to understand that these days books are competing with other things that we didn’t have growing up, they are more interested in technology and their devices.”

Like most children these days, master 7 loves his screen time.  He becomes obsessed, to the point where I have pretty much banned and confiscated everything he had access to.  It was after this remark by my husband that I realised that this technology-obsessed boy was never going to willingly chose to read a book over his devices.  And even if he doesn’t have access to them, it’s that kind of stimulation that he is after – the instant gratification, not the long toil.  I realised that the mistake I was making is that I was setting up books against technology and books could never win.   I decided then and there that I had to find a solution that made screen time work for us, not against us.

What I decided to do is set some pretty strict guidelines where he can earn time on the computer.  Firstly, in order to qualify for computer usage, he needs to complete all his homeschooling requirements for the day.  Then once he qualifies he can earn time on the computer by either using educational games (both online or otherwise) and reading.  So far it is working great.  And the beauty of the system is that by the time he finishes all his work and then goes on to earn credit, he really doesn’t have that much time to use his screen time anyhow!

I can’t say it’s not without its hiccups.  Today he tried to blackmail one hour out of me so that he would hold onto his rubbish instead from throwing it on the road like he wanted to.  He is also earning too much credit too quickly so it seems that I may need to tweak the credit system a little. However, on the whole, it’s working like a charm and for somebody who has always avoided work like the plague and refused to read on his own for his entire life, it’s wonderful to see him so motivated.

As an added bonus I have a new discipline strategy under my sleeve.  If he ignores my requests as he has a habit of doing when I’m unable to follow up (eg, annoying his sister in the car when I’m driving) all I have to do is tell him that if he continues I’m taking an hour off his accrued time and its pretty much instant obedience from there.

Will it last? I can’t say for sure, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. For now, I’m just savouring the simple pleasure of seeing him read in bed before sleep and praying that during this time he finds the magic that can be found in books and he can love reading as much as I did when I was a child – as much as I do now.

When Leaders Betray

Recently in Melbourne, we have heard much about Sudanese gangs. As the new boogeyman, we are encouraged to fear them.  Australia’s minister for immigration, Peter Dutton,  has publically stated that Victorian’s are too scared to go out due to of a fear of African gangs.  Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.

As leader of this country, I thought that Prime Minister Turnball would take a more measured approach.  Being the head of the liberal party I didn’t expect him to completely dismiss his minister. What I did expect though, was that maybe, just maybe, he would try to be a little more responsible.  Maybe he would provide some context and tone it down a little in an attempt to maintain social cohesion.  I was wrong.

After a warning by the Victorian equal opportunity and human rights commissioner, Kristen Hilton, against “racially divisive statements” the government didn’t back down.  Turnball defended his minister, claiming that “there is a real concern about Victorian gangs” and going on to say that “you’d have to be walking around with your hands over your ears in Melbourne not to hear it”.

As a Victorian who evidently walks around with her hands over her ears, I can honestly say that I have never actually come across anybody who expressed any fear towards Sudanese migrants.  Personally, the only fear I’ve felt towards Sudanese migrants has been that of their prowess on the football field.  What I have seen, however, is a lot of eye rolling and frustration towards a government who are dealing with this issue recklessly.

Even if there is a small minority who genuinely feel this fear, this needs to be dealt with appropriately.  Instead of allaying their fears this government has preferred to capitalise on them.  Instead of decreasing the tensions they have elected to fuel them.  Instead of leading responsibly they have chosen to betray those they are meant to represent.

Last week a 14-year-old Sudanese boy walking home from school was viciously attacked.  He was stabbed twice for no other reason than his African heritage, an attack which the media has chosen to largely ignore.  Where are racially divisive headlines when the victim is of African heritage?  Where is the hysteria and hyperbole? Where are the inflammatory government statements?  Sadly this boy was not only a victim of a cowardly attack, this boy was also a victim of the betrayal of his leaders.

Leaders are those who set the standard. Good leaders promote unity and cohesion among those they represent.  Bad leaders create discord and unrest.  Turnball and Dutton, you both have blood on your hands.

Achievement During Our Struggles

During the early days after giving birth to my last baby, I was struggling a little. I don’t have lots of energy at the best of time, but my inability to do anything at this time was particularly difficult. Debilitated by a c-section and time-consuming feeding issues with my baby there was not much that I could do.  I decided to focus on what I could do and used my time to start reading some self-help books.  The plan was to get myself motivated so that when I did regain my time and health I’d make better use of them and hopefully get on top of it all.

The first book I picked up was Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins. One part, in particular, asked the reader to reflect on the past ten years of their lives.  It wasn’t really about the reflection, and it quickly went on to direct readers to plan ahead for the next decade, but nonetheless, it had an immense impact on my perception of what I have achieved. I’ve never been one to feel like a failure, but the truth is I’ve never felt particularly successful either. However, looking back on the past 10 years caused me to view things in a different light.

Without delving too far into my personal achievements the past 10 years have been busy, to say the least.  I completed a post-graduate degree at university, worked and had three babies.  I raised happy, healthy children while educating other people’s children, before going on to homeschooling one of my own. I breastfed and cleaned, taxied and washed, all the while juggling various roles.  Did I do them perfectly? No.  Could I have done more? Probably.  But I am human, I get tired and need rest.  And like many other mamas, I thrive on some quiet downtime after the kids are all in bed.  I put my feet up, indulge in a guilty treat, and then inevitably regret it amid my blurry-eyed mornings.

During this time I felt I was struggling, some of the time I felt like I was drowning. I always felt I wasn’t doing enough. I was neglecting so many things. My house was a mess more often than I’d like to admit, and I was ridden with guilt over all the things I thought I should have been doing but wasn’t able to, either physically or mentally – usually both. Looking back on these past ten years, and despite my regrets, it made me realise, much to my amazement, that I actually did quite well. Despite my feelings of guilt, it helped me to recognise that even though my house didn’t look like a display home, that’s okay. I am not superwoman…really, what more could I expect from myself? Despite my daily struggles and thinking it was never good enough, it led me to understand that over the past ten years that I have actually achieved quite a lot.

I’m not writing this to boast, my achievements were not exceptional and pale in comparison to the accomplishments of many others.  I just wanted to share that as individuals, and especially as mothers, we all face daily struggles, feelings of self-doubt and the overwhelming belief that we are not doing enough – most of us feel mother’s guilt. It’s really useful to just take a step back and think about what we have achieved over the past 5 or 10 years. And it doesn’t have to be a degree, work history, or something that society values.  Seeing our children grow into the delightful individuals that they are is more than enough. We need to stop focusing on what we are not achieving and start focusing on what we are achieving.