Category Archives: Parents

Helping children manage stress during exam season

The summer term has started, and so has exam time so we are looking at helping children manage exam season stress.  Children in years 2 and 6 are taking the controversial SATs, secondary-aged children are sitting life-changing GCSEs and of course those older children whose future education is hanging on their A-Level performances.  The effect of these tests and exams can resonate through whole families.

Let’s get down to how parents can actually support and help their children deal with stress during the exam period. It’s totally normal to feel some nerves before exams and this can be motivating and help zone in on the task in hand.  However too much anxiety means one can’t think clearly, reason, plan well and make good decisions which impacts on studying and exam performance.

When anyone is stressed the amygdala kicks in. We tend to become emotional, angry, fearful or frustrated.  The pre- frontal cortex is the part of the brain that distinguishes humans from animals.  It’s what tells the amygdala to calm down so we can cope with stress.  It helps to regulate blood pressure, heart rate and glucose levels which all influence how we feel about a situation.

Here are some very practical tips to quieten down the amygdala and enable the pre-frontal cortex to function: 
  • Talk to your child regularly and try to understand the cause of their anxiety so they feel heard and understood. Is it feeling unprepared, pressure from parents, teachers or peers, unrealistic expectations, overwhelm with too much to do and not enough time? Don’t dismiss them or try to just make the feeling go away.
  • Ask your child to spend 5 minutes listing all the things that take up their mental space and energy. Look at every item and place them into two categories: control and concern. Control are things you can actively do something about and concern are things you have no influence over.  People who handle stress well, minimise stuff in the concern circle and spend energy on addressing the things they can control.
  • Have a longer term study timetable but then focus on one day at a time. Help them prioritise, break tasks down into manageable chunks and set small, realistic, achievable goals.
  • Engage in physical activity which helps to boost energy levels, clear the mind and work off excess adrenalin so they can feel calmer.
  • Eat little and often, avoid too much caffeine or sugar which affects concentration. Keep hydrated as water helps the electromagnetic activity in the brain.
  • Get enough sleep which can still be regarded as study time as the brain processes information taken in during the day.
  • Learn, model and share stress management skills such as relaxation, breathing techniques, mediation mindfulness, massage, yoga, EFT and  visualisation
  • Schedule in some unstructured downtime, ideally with a social component.
  • Remember your child’s strengths and passions – encourage some activities that they are good at which involve laughing.
  • Limit screens and access to social media as this swallows up hours of precious time. Also steer clear of peers who make them feel more stressed.
  • Having a positive attitude and the right mind set will determine how motivated they feel, how much they learn and ultimately how well they do. Athletes, for example work on their mental state as well as physical and use psychologists to ensure peak performance.

Now I’m going to go away and follow this advice for myself between now and mid -June.

Just “chill out mum” as my kids tell me!!!

How to reduce the chance of children developing eating disorders

How to reduce the chance of children developing eating disorders

The very word ‘eating disorder’ is enough to strike fear in most parents.  Latest estimates suggest that 1.25 million people have an eating disorder and that adolescence is the most likely time for this to develop.   

What is an eating disorder?

At the heart of all eating disorders is an unhealthy attitude to food.  The most common eating disorders are:

  1. Anorexia Nervosa – characterised by not eating enough and often excessive exercising
  2. Bulimia Nervosa – overeating followed by vomiting and laxatives in order not to gain weight
  3. Binge Eating Disorder – compulsive overeating that feels out of control

There are varying degrees of gravity for all of these and it is not always easy to determine when your child ‘tips over’ from healthy eating to problem eating, and then into a full- blown eating disorder.  The bottom line is, if you feel that food is dominating your child’s life, your best action is to seek treatment, as early intervention gives the best chance of recovery.

Why does someone get an eating disorder?

There is no one over-riding cause to why someone develops an eating disorder; there is a combination of influences such as genetics, family experiences and culture.  Parents don’t give their children an eating disorder, but there is much they can do to help reduce the chances of their children developing one.  

What can parents do? 

Parents’ main role is to create a positive home environment by:

  • Setting the right goals – ensure that the aspirations that you have for your child are not based on appearance and that you do not give the impression that you will love them more if ‘only they ate less’.  This includes paying more attention to what they say and do rather than what they look like.
  • Speaking your mind – we are all exposed to some pretty toxic ideas about body image.  This particularly applies to social media which bombards us with images that can distort our children’s attitude to body size.  We need to educate our children that there is no such thing as the perfect body and that prejudice against people who are overweight is wrong.  Too much time spent trying to achieve unattainable beauty is only going to lead to feelings of failure and is limiting your child’s development in more meaningful areas.  Recent research showed that an intervention for women with eating disorders, that encouraged them to criticise negative media images that associated appearance with self-worth, significantly reduced their negative feelings about themselves. 
  • Being comfortable with your own body shape – the more complete you are as parents with your own body, irrespective of size – the less likely you are to imply that having a less than ideal body shape is something to feel ashamed about.
  • Talking about feelings – eating disorders are a way of coping with difficult feelings, so encourage children to understand and express their emotions rather than placate them with food.  This will give you an opportunity to teach them strategies to use when they are feeling frustrated, angry or sad.  For example, taking a deep breath, talking the issue through with an adult, or even asking for a hug.
  • Being a good role model – you are their biggest influence.  If you pick at your food, criticise your own body and are constantly on a diet, your children will copy these unhelpful behaviours.
  • Not putting them on a diet – dieting rarely works and often affects self-esteem.  Most eating disorders start with a diet.  There can also be loads of other health implications such as stunted growth, osteoporosis and delayed puberty. 
  • Keeping children a healthy weight – overweight teenagers have a much higher risk of developing an eating disorder, but often its symptoms go unnoticed because they are masked by being overweight. 
  • Exercising for the right reasons – exercise is an important part of good health, but if you are spending hours in the gym each day trying to get the ‘perfect’ body then this will give children the wrong messages.
  • Boosting their self-esteem – this is probably the most important factor that protects children from developing an eating disorder.  One of the best ways to do this is by offering children choices, particularly as eating disorders often develop as a way of trying to take control of their lives.  Try offering them an array of healthy foods and let them serve themselves.  Even better get them involved in cooking healthy food.

Not only will these behaviours help to reduce the chances of your children developing an eating disorder but they are also great ways for maintaining a healthy attitude to weight and food for all the family.

Article by Tracey Bennett, specialist in Obesity & Weight Management

How can Line Mangers best support Parents & Carers?

I would really appreciate your help with a new project……..

I’m so excited to be contributing to a world-class development programme to support line managers.  The programme  will provide practical, tangible, scalable change for Line Manager’s teams and organisations, through the transformative power of conversation.    

I am covering how Line Managers can best support parents and carers.
I would love your real life experiences and input. 
Please respond to any of the following questions and share with others to respond.:


How has your Line Manager really helped you to feel supported and able to manage work at the same time as being a parent/carer?

What could your Line Manager have done differently?

What key advice would you give to Line Managers who are supporting employees that are parents/carers?

Please email your response to rvecht@educatingmatters.co.uk

What does it mean to be a ‘good enough parent’?

Naturally the start of a new year is a popular time to make ‘new year’ resolutions. If you are a parent aside from resolutions like making changes to your diet, exercise routine or work patterns, some of those resolutions will touch on making changes to how you parent.

Most people tend to set very unrealistic expectations for themselves, so I think this is the perfect time to think about what it means to be ‘good enough’.

This phrase “the good enough mother” was first coined in 1953 by Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst. … He believed that the way to be a “good mother” is to be a “good enough mother”.

We seem to spend so much precious time impossibly striving to be perfect parents, amidst a ‘self-sacrificing ideal parent culture’ and so much conflicting advice. There seems to be quite a large gap between what we expect of a good parent and who we actually are.

Comparing, judging, feeling fear and guilt is totally unhelpful and unproductive. All the rushing around for our kids in a fiercely competitive culture is driving everyone crazy (kids and parents). Children from affluent families are 2-3 times more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and stress than children in poverty.

There needs to be more time and space to just be.

Perfection at work and at home is unachievable.

My resolution for 2019 is to make ‘good enough’ the goal rather than ‘perfect’.

What is the role of a good enough parent?

Here are some of my thoughts, in no particular order but I would be very interested to hear yours.

• Be nurturing, loving, supportive and in control.

• Spend ‘special time’ – frequent, predictable, short, scheduled, unstructured bursts of time. Be mindful, conscious and really ‘with’ them.

• Teach values like gratitude– our main role is to raise good human beings, to be the best version of themselves.

• Keep your child safe by setting clear boundaries and making children accountable for their actions.

• Foster a ‘growth’ rather than ‘fixed’ mindset (look up Carol Dweck)

• ‘Grit’ is one of the best indicators of success in life. The ability to set your mind to do something and stick with it.  (See Angela Duckworth). To raise gritty kids, lose the self-sacrifice and let your child struggle a bit rather than rescuing.

• Allow your children to grow, be independent and make mistakes.

• Help them understand their needs, strengths and weaknesses.

• Regulate your own emotions and reactions, so you can manage their mistakes and ‘misbehaviour’ in a positive way. To do this you need to look after yourself.

• Build a strong, connected relationship – the only way to influence them over time.

• 80% of parenting is modelling

• Magic ratio of 5 positives to every negative

• Instil a love of learning – they don’t have to be highly academic.

• Enjoy your child – Love the child you have unconditionally for who they are and not what they accomplish or the child you wish for.

How do you want your children to remember you and the time you spent together when they grow up?

I do think it’s true when people say that being a parent is the hardest job in the world, with the least training.   If you would like more support in 2019, please get in touch for details about our extended ‘positive parenting’ course, talks in schools, at work or 1:1 sessions.

Wishing you and your families a peaceful, happy new year

Tips on using tutors

The start of an academic year is usually a time that parents think about finding tutors for their children. How to find a tutor is a question I get asked about very often. When I left full time classroom teaching 17 years, I was teaching in an independent school and it was almost unheard of for children at the school to be tutored unless they were really struggling in a particular area. These days whether your child is in the state or independent sector, tutoring is extremely common and if you google tutoring agencies, there is a huge choice which can feel very overwhelming.

The first thing I would encourage parents to ask themselves is:

Why do you actually want or need a tutor for your child?

Some parents feel a pressure to engage a tutor just because they see other families use them and there is a concern that your child will be left behind or disadvantaged if they don’t have one. If for example your child is in a good prep school and they are at the level they should be at for their age, the school’s remit is to prepare them for selective exams to get into secondary school. There should be no need for added tutoring on top.

Despite being a teacher myself and having provided hours of private tutoring before I had kids, I engaged tutors for my own children for a range of different reasons. One of my kids really struggled with spelling so she had an intense course of support from a language specialist to teach spelling patterns, another 2 had tutoring to prepare 1 year before 11+ exams as they were in the state sector and had no preparation for this. My eldest child was in a state secondary school where he had 7 different English teachers just during the GCSE course and desperately needed support to be in with a chance of doing well in English. Thankfully it paid off!

You need your child’s buy in and to discuss why a tutor could be beneficial. Given the choice most kids would rather do their own thing than have yet another lesson outside school but if you are forcing them to attend, they are unlikely to get anything out of it.

Typical reasons for requiring a tutor are:

• Struggling in a specific subject. This could be due to ability, maturity, special education needs, poor subject teaching in school.
• Preparation for selective/competitive exams, particularly when transferring from state to independent or grammar school
• Loss of confidence
• General boost to secure best possible results in public exams
• Gifted and talented children may need to be challenged

Where to find a quality tutor?

The best way is through word of mouth but some parents may be secretive about the fact that their child has a tutor or not want to share details in case there aren’t enough slots available for their child or the next sibling. I’m being a little cynical but this is the reality!

Ask the school for recommendations or better still, maybe a teacher in school who already knows your child might be available.

Use a tutoring agency. I have had mixed experiences with these. They may have Oxbridge graduates with incredible knowledge and passion for their subject but that doesn’t mean they can teach or fully understand your child’s requirements. It’s particularly important for public exams that the tutor is familiar with the exact exam board the student is preparing for.

My preference would always be to have a tutor who has actually taught in a school.

Connection is vital

I made this mistake a few times with my eldest. Tutors had come highly recommended by friends but my child just didn’t connect with them and I continued the lessons far longer than I should have. For a child to thrive and learn they absolutely must be inspired, enjoy the lessons and connect with the teacher. I always insist on a taster lesson and ask the child for their input. The lessons should be positive, engaging and interactive. What I have found countless times with my own 4 children, is that when a teacher is good the kids are extremely motivated and willing to work and do extra homework. When they feel a teacher is not making the effort or doesn’t ‘get’ them, the kids are totally disinterested and reluctant to work.

Keeping track

Have regular catch ups to understand what was covered in the lesson and how your child is progressing. There should be noticeable progress within a few months.

It’s not always possible but try to ensure the lesson is at a time of day when your child is receptive. If they are absolutely exhausted after a full day at school, you could be wasting your money.

Be clear with your child and tutor about what your goals are or what you are trying to achieve through the lessons.

If your child requires a tutor for a specific exam that’s coming up and you know they need a tutor, make sure you plan in advance. Good tutors can have very long waiting lists!

In some circumstances, it’s helpful for the tutor to liaise with the school to understand where the gaps are or whether the support is having any noticeable impact.

Fees

These vary enormously depending on the area you live in, the tutor’s experience and whether or not they come directly or through an agency. Just because they charge more does not mean they are better.

Be reliable and supportive

Good tutors are in demand and don’t necessarily want to manage difficult parents or reluctant students. Make sure you don’t cancel lessons at the last minute or be unreasonably demanding. If the tutor has set homework, put systems in place to follow through with your child during the week and ensure it gets done.

Wishing your children all the very best for a successful academic year.

Touch typing

It is very possible that handwritten exams will be phased out in the next few years.  None of my older 3 children ever learnt to properly touch type but I recently read that 7 or 8 is a good time to learn so I want to test that out with my fourth child this Summer.

I got in touch with Sue from Englishtype to discover the benefits

Why teach your child to touchtype?

Touch-typing is one of those skills that has been over looked or gone out of fashion. But as computers have become an essential in most areas of life – school, work, home – the most inefficient part is usually the human / computer interface – the keyboard. In fact, it could be one of the most valuable skills your primary school child will ever learn.

Let’s look at the reasons why every child should learn the art of “keyboarding”.

1. When you type by touch, a different part of your brain is in control

When you can type without looking down at the keyboard, your unconscious is in control of what’s happening (it’s like changing gear in a car – you think it and your body does the rest).

What’s in control is the “cerebellum”; also known as your kinaesthetic (or physical) skill centre, or you may have heard the term “muscle memory” (it’s not actually in your muscles!). It really is “let your fingers do the talking”.

This part of the brain automates processes, operations and skills, so that once learned, the process part is unconscious. There are so many advantages to this part of the brain being in control, for example…

– Type more accurately
– Type faster
– Keep your eyes on the screen, no dividing of the attention between the screen and the keyboard
– Your mind is free to concentrate on content and quality of writing
– It’s a different, effective way to spell; words are finger movements and patterns on the keyboard not strings of letters

If you keep switching between looking at the keyboard and the screen, you’re wasting half your time because your brain is trying to focus on two different things at once.

2. Children who can type have an advantage over their peers

John Sutherland, professor of English literature at University College, says, ‘You want to put wings on the heels of your children? Teach them to touch-type. They’ll bless you for it.’

A child who can’t touch type will produce work at less than half the speed of a child who can; knowing that, why wouldn’t you want to give your child that advantage? More and more senior schools are looking for pupils with keyboarding skills already established. Cambridge University announced in 2017 that exams are likely to move to computer from being handwritten, this shows the future is typed. Don’t let your child get left behind.

3. Primary age is the best time to learn

Touch-typing may seem a rather grown-up skill, but primary school kids are perfectly placed to learn. 7-11yrs is ideal, because their hands are the right size, they have the concentration span, and because they love being on the computer, they’re motivated to learn.

Touch-typing can be learnt later on, either at secondary school or in adulthood, but the later you leave it, the more bad habits you’ll have to unlearn. That’s why earlier is better.

4. It helps children with various Special Needs / Neuro-diversity

Touch typing helps children with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia/DCD, ASD/Autism and Visual Impairment. Succeeding and being able to produce written work also gives a huge boost to self esteem.

Getting the powerful cerebellum/muscle memory involved in spelling completely changes the process in the brain. Words aren’t strings of letters, they are finger movements and patterns on the keyboard.

‘Some dyslexic students find typing easier than handwriting, as the tactile element of pressing the keyboard can help with managing difficult words,’ says Linda Eastap, education manager at the British Dyslexia Association. ‘The multisensory aspect of typing can help the child with letter patterns.’

5. It’s quick to learn and fun with Englishtype

Children can master it surprisingly quickly. Using Englishtype’s unique multi-sensory program and coloured keyboard, most children can get to 30wpm in about 10 weeks, with two 10-minute practices per day. Little and often is more effective than doing one hour, once a week.

There’s a great combination of lessons, games and booster (special exercises to build the automatic skill), all while collecting trophies and gems to get Outfits to dress up your little typing companion, Qwerty the Robot.

6. Your children are unlikely to learn at school

Unlike Australia and America, where ‘keyboarding’ is taught universally, children are unlikely to be taught to touch-type at school. The Government says it’s desirable, but it’s not a compulsory part of the curriculum, so most schools don’t offer touch-typing. Englishtype is designed to be self-teaching with minimal parental input, so it’s easy for children to learn at home.

7. The future isn’t going to be “all voice control”

Ever tried dictating a letter? It’s really not easy. If you give a speech, you don’t just stand up and give it, you prepare, making notes, thinking through what you’re going to say. If you’re going to use dictation software, it takes a long time to train your brain and the computer to your voice, plus even if you master it, it’s not something you can then do in a classroom, exam room, on a train as a student, etc.
There’s been a lot of fuss about this recently with Alexa, Siri, Google – all the technology companies jumping aboard for voice activation. It’s hard enough to get your phone to make a call to the right person or play one track on your stereo, never mind dictate a few thousand words!

Going back to the science for a mo, “thought to speech and thought to script have been shown to be different processes in the brain”. So when you are engaged in writing (with a pen or a keyboard), a different part of brain is activated than when you speak. So if you’re going to learn a skill, learning dictation is just as much a new thing typing. Choose carefully!

8. Being honest, it’s not actually about using your little fingers to type P and Q!

There’s been some research going around from Norway that says you don’t need to be a touch typist to type efficiently.

But they identify the factors that make for efficient and effective keyboard use – all of which are fundamentals in touch typing and won’t get learned otherwise…
– Be accurate: you will never be fast if you aren’t accurate. Just one mistake means pressing 3 keys (minimum) instead of 1 – the wrong key, the delete key and then the right key (and that’s if you spot it immediately), so 300% slower
– Look at the screen not down at your hands, you’re faster because your attention is not divided and if you do make a mistake you spot it immediately
– Type pairs and patterns of letters successively; faster typists show different fingers moving at the same time, the second key moving down as the first key moves up and so on

The best way to learn the things they suggest is to learn to touch type – even if you don’t use your pinkie finger for Q, be consistent (ensures accuracy) that’s what matters. Most people never move past having to look down at the keyboard if they aren’t taught, the eyes stay in control of the skill, and “they will hunt & peck like electro-chickens for the rest of their life” (Prof John Sutherland again).

The Importance of Play

How often do parents get an opportunity to play?   Particularly mums

 Play feeds your soul

 

Play enables children to:

• Express themselves
• Explore language freely, develop vocabulary
• Explore feelings and find out about themselves and others
• Develop co-operation, care, consideration
• Exercise choice and make decisions
• Use mathematical language and develop mathematical concepts
• Develop a range of motor skills
• Adapt, risk taking, problem solving
• Explore a fantasy world of their own creation

For your children play is vital. Play is a child’s work.

Everything a child does, or doesn’t do, influences the next stage of their development. The early years are the time when a child’s brain is developing, making connections and creating a network of skills that are built on throughout their lives.

Play is important for everyone – adults too

Helping Kids Have the Confidence to Shine

Anyone who has kids knows that they vary hugely in character, even siblings in the same environement who are treated the same – we hope! – turn out completely differently. We see that confidence doesn’t come naturally to all yet those who have it achieve more, learn better and are fundamentally happier as a result.

Can all children learn to be confident? I believe they can.

Life for a child is full of up and downs, journeys and paths that are not always certain. A child needs as much confidence as possible as they discover, learn, question and grow through their formative years.

My name is Nadine Shenton and I run Confidence in Kids.  During my sessions with children I focus on the following points which I list here and encourage parents to consider:

1 Appreciate their effort no matter if they win or lose

whilst growing up, the journey is much more important than the result.

2 Encourage practice to build competence which leads to building confidence –

let your child practise whatever they are interested in and don’t put added pressure on them in the process.

3 Let them figure out problems by themselves –

if you do the hard work for them, they will never develop the confidence to work it out on their own.

4 Let them act their age –

they are not your age, they are children, therefore let them act as children. Striving to meet advanced age expectations can reduce confidence.

5 Home life-

What is the home set up? Who does all the talking? What number sibling are they? Parents make many mistakes in the early years, this is normal, do not be hard on yourself, learn from mistakes and move forward.

6 Friendships-

Are they a leader, a follower or one of the team? Do they like their friends or are they trying very hard to fit in? Are they invited to playdates and do they have time to play or is too much time taken up by homework and other ‘stuff’?

In my sessions, I come to understand each child by listening.  I tap into their passions, interests, hobbies and also seek to understand their struggles and hurdles and how these might stop them performing to the best of their ability and lower their self esteem.

Are they stressed for example, under pressure from their home or school environment, anxious, comparing themselves to others or do they constantly hear their parents compare one sibling to another? Not healthy!

Are they hearing messages from a parent that they are ‘shy’ and, as a result, have they come to believe this? It is very easily done and perhaps overlooked by parents but it can have dramatic consequences and lower confidence.

Communication and especially listening is integral to the development of a happy child.

If you would like to know more about how your child can gain confidence, whether for future presentations, interviews or public speaking or simply to see your child smile and blossom … then please see

https://www.facebook.com/confidenceinkidsNS/

Exams looming – What is the Parent’s Role?

As a parent, of course you can’t revise for your child or sit the exam for them! However there is lots you can do to help your children get organised, stay motivated and keep calm.

How can you help your child get through exams?

Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher

Don’t leave it all up to the school.  No teacher no matter how dedicated cares as much about a child’s success as a parent does. Parental support is 8x more important  in determining a child’s academic success than social class.

Expectations

Help your child to set realistic goals. Encourage them to go for their ‘personal’ best. Separate yourself from what you wished for at their age. Some, children are terrified of disappointing their parents. You may feel disappointed by a result but never by the child.  On results day, whatever the outcome, they want to be satisfied that they worked as hard as they could and gave it their all.

The reality is that many children just don’t have the maturity to conduct themselves in this way.  Try and explain when they are older and look back on this period that is what will count, not the individual grades.

Support & encourage

You are the person who loves them the most and they need to know that you are proud of them whatever happens. Try to remain calm and friendly through the revision period, rather than nagging, repeating, arguing or shouting. Help them to keep things in perspective and break down tasks into manageable chunks. Perhaps be a bit more lenient with things like chores.

Rewards

Encourage your children to work for their own satisfaction, not through bribery. Schedule small and frequent rewards for effort and have some light, fun moments together as a relief from the studying. Focus on what they are doing well and use descriptive praise to mention when you notice them working without having to be reminded, staying focused for a long period etc

Empathise

Encourage your children to talk about how they are feeling. Help them feel heard and understood so you are an ally not the enemy! Listen attentively to their fears and anxiety without denying them or just trying to make them feel better. Reflect back what they are feeling and empathise.

Training in good study habits

Children need to be taught how to learn and study effectively. This should be happening at school but it could really help if it’s reinforced at home. Some ideas on revision techniques here.

Help them to plan a revision timetable and get organised. Maybe you need to reorganise the family schedule so their revision is a priority and the atmosphere at home is as calm as possible.

 

Of course, being supportive and giving your children learning tools can help a lot. Unfortunately you can’t however make your child care!  At some stage they must take responsibility for their learning and be willing to put in the hard work.

Wishing your children the very best of luck!

How to stop your children turning into digital zombies during the school holidays

Read original article here

Laurel Ives
10 February 2018 • 9:00am

Today marks the start of the February half-term “holiday” for most parents, and once upon a time that holiday consisted of opening the back door and pushing older kids out of it to roam their local surroundings.

But now all the world is contained in a screen. From Snapchat to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, games consoles and television, the lure of the phone, iPad and laptop is so potent that it has become a daily struggle for parents to get their kids to engage with anything beyond a selfie, snap or group chat.

Even when friends come round it’s common to find them lined up on the sofa staring at individual screens.

It’s such a headache that some parents turn a blind eye to teenagers lurking in their bedrooms, faces lit up blue. Screen time equals peace and quiet time for beleaguered mum and dad – and maybe even a moment to have a sneaky surf through social media themselves, or answer a work email.

Others deliberately seek out Wi-Fi free holidays to end the battles.

One friend told me that every half-term her family rents a cottage in Exmoor with an open fire and they all go for long walks with the dog; “It’s bliss as Exmoor has no Wi-Fi!” she said. Another recalled the time when the Wi-Fi broke in their holiday home. “The kids ended up playing Monopoly, cards and darts. We did quizzes. I think they may have even have had the odd conversation.”

Advice for parents | How to protect your children from screen overuse

• Don’t use a digital babysitter. Babies and toddlers need a real caregiver, not a screen companion, to cuddle and talk with. There is no substitute for a real human being.
• Wait until your baby is two or three years old before they get screen time. And make a conscious decision about screen rules for them.
• Monitor your own screen time. Whether or not your children are watching, be aware of how much your television or computer is on at home – and how often you check your mobile phone in front of them.
• Ask your children about their real world day, but don’t forget to ask them about what’s happening in their cyber life.
• Don’t snoop or spy – studies show that children with overbearing parents just learn to be more secretive, and won’t turn to them when they run into trouble. In other words, be vigilant but not a vigilante.
• If you find inappropriate content, resist the urge to shut down or confiscate their device. You are depriving them of their entire support system. They need to reach out to friends. Let them.
• Finally, if anything goes wrong in their cyber life, tell them not to try to handle it on their own. That’s what parents are for.

Yet if the Wi-Fi is working (and, let’s be honest, there are few places where it isn’t), there are ways to restore tech balance that don’t involve an unrealistic total ban. Increasingly parents are realising that limiting tech is a good idea as the negatives of phone use continue to stack up: from neck strain to weight gain to a decline in empathy, concentration and conversation skills learned from time spent actually face-to-face with others.

Anya Kamenetz is the digital education correspondent for National Public Radio in America, and her new book, The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life, is published this month. “What you want to avoid is kids getting into the zombie zone, mindlessly consuming show after show and game after game so that when you turn it off you get this explosive reaction because they’ve been overstimulated.”


Too much screen time can leave teenagers overstimulated CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Instead Kamenetz recommends finding creative ways to use technology together. “Try to bring screens back into the shared space. Let’s say you watch a video together and learn the dance routine in the video and practise it together, the screen becomes part of the game.

“Or you’re going to bake cookies, so you find some tutorials on YouTube, you make the cookies together, and then you might even upload a video of yourselves making them. Maybe you’re going on a trip and you research a great video to watch that you will all talk about after. The goal is to hijack the fascination with the screen to explore an interest or activity together.”

Kamenetz feels parents are suffering from a lot of free floating, but sometimes misplaced anxiety around their children and the world of tech. “If your kid is in their bedroom on Snapchat, what is that really doing? Is it interfering with their sleep, or are their real world relationships not as strong?

“These are big issues, but the vast majority of kids are probably doing just fine. Social media doesn’t necessarily have to derail their lives. Be careful, talk to them and observe them.”

Negotiating the new world of screens then is about finding sensible limits, and making sure it doesn’t take over our lives. Build in some sacred screen-free moments, like at the dinner table or when you’re driving.

Many of the most important conversations I’ve had with my children have been behind the wheel of the car. Or find some shared family activities.


Thrill seekers: get out into nature CREDIT: TREE TOP TREK

I was surprised by how many of my friends cited family board games night as a way to have fun together. Says Claudia Courtis: “We play board games that are actually quite fun even for parents. I can recommend: Forbidden Island, Exploding Kittens, Code Names, Pass the Bomb, Qwirkle, Star Wars Labyrinth, Rummikub and Ticket to Ride. It boils down to giving the kids attention, offering to do something with them, being available, which is all quite hard to do when you’re keeping an eye on work emails at the same time.”

Unfortunately as parents we are also caught up in a muddle of work and social media on our phones ourselves – even when on holiday – and it’s tempting to use the kids screens as a babysitter. Rachel Vecht, a former teacher, mother of four and founder of Educating Matters, which provides seminars and courses in parenting skills, says what’s important here is modelling.

“Eighty percent of parenting is modelling. If you’ve said no screens at the table that includes your quick email to work, as whatever your child is doing is as important to them as our agenda is to us. We have to acknowledge that, and it helps children feel we understand them.”
Vecht believes in writing a screen contract in advance of the school holidays with incentives that everyone in the family has agreed to stick to. It’s enough to send your average adult phone addict into a panic.

“This half-term we are not going anywhere and lots of my kids friends are away, so I will sit down with them and explain that I understand they will want to be on their screens some of the time, but that we need to allocate times and brainstorm what else we are going to do, and come up with some ideas based on their passions. It’s about setting it up in advance, so that it’s all agreed. If you’re working during half-term then sit down with whoever is looking after your children too and make sure they understand the contract.”

Which is not to say that it is entirely the responsibility of parents to entertain their children. We seem to have created a world where children are so scheduled with extra curricular activities that they have lost the ability to potter happily about at home without the television or phone, and find amusement on their own.

One of the aims of organisation The Wild Network is to bring back this sense of free natural play and encourage children to spend more time outdoors in nature. When they surveyed parents to discover what barriers stood in the way of their children going outside, screen time was the number one issue they cited.

At a glance | Screen-time rules around the world

•UK guidelines, set out by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), recommend no more than two hours’ leisure screen time per day for children of any age.
•In the US, it is recommended that under-twos should have no screen time at all. Thereafter, the maximum amount of leisure screen time should be two hours per day.
•In France, it is illegal to market TV shows specifically at under-threes.
•In Taiwan, parents are legally obliged to monitor children’s screen time. They are fined £1,000 if they are found to be letting an under-18 have a screen for hours at a time.

Says Mark Sears, chief wild officer: “The evidence is really strong now that time in nature and outdoors supports children’s well-being in lots of different ways, and not only because it encourages them to be active. It also gives them tools to survive in the 21st-century like resilience, being resourceful, communication skills. This is not a historic sense of how we want children to be. Those softer skills support the whole child to thrive in the modern world.”

Yet rather than try to ban the technology standing in the way, The Wild Network has used it to effect change by building an app, The Wild Explorer, with fun ideas for outdoors activities ranging from 20 minutes, to day-long expeditions, organised by age.

“We’re using our apps to give parents little hacks and ideas for outdoor time. In the February half-term it’s cold, so this is not necessarily the moment for big expeditions. Start with a short bike ride or bird spotting in your local area. Even in our cities you can find something wild.”

And wherever you are, whether it’s the mountains of a ski resort or your local park, pause and take a moment to enjoy it, before you feel the need to document it with a photo or post.

As Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a psychologist, says: “If you see a mountain climb it first, then photograph it. It’s about finding balance.” Ultimately the world of tech is in its adolescence, and in a sense we are all stumbling through its maze, trying to find a path through it.

Kamenetz likens the digital revolution to the car industry in its infancy. “When people first got cars they didn’t have speed limits, and stop signs and seat belts. Gradually people learned, but it took a decade to make cars safer and we’re at the very beginning of that transformation.”

We’re not there yet, but screens are not cigarettes; we don’t need a total ban, just to set some limits and boundaries. Still roaming, but in a smarter way.