NB: This post was originally authored by me and featured on bellanaija.com, an online lifestyle blog.
In the Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, the authors prescribed that in creating moments with our kids, we should ask them to plan an entire 24-hour day, and we parents must do everything that has been planned out by them, so long as it is not unsafe, immoral or illegal, of course.
On Children’s Day this year, I decided to ask my four-year-old what he would like to spend his holiday doing, per foods, outings, and activities. He had some great ideas per activities, one of which was following me to the gym. However, the one activity I am sure he truly relished was the cartoon I let him watch for about 45 minutes on YouTube.
You see, I recently completely eliminated screen time from his life. I saw that he was getting addicted to cartoons, and I was beginning to see it affect his concentration levels, especially when it was time to do more serious activities like homework. And I take some blame for it, because I started to relax my grip on really rationing screen time, sometimes allowing him and his one-year-old brother go hours on end from Disney Junior to Nick Junior and Cartoon Network and back. Every mama knows this is an easy way to get these kids off our backs, especially those who ask questions about everything. Well, I was ready to fix that, and after careful consideration, I decided that a complete elimination at home was best to help me achieve my goal, as opposed to just a reduction or rationing.
As a result, all the cartoon stations were gone, and so were the YouTube privileges on my phone. I figured that when he had lost the taste for it, I could then re-introduce it and ration it brutally.
I saw the effect on his life almost immediately. Oh, of course, he protested at first, but this mama was adamant. Soon he started to adjust, then we filled those hours with other activities like playing outside, playing with toys inside, reading, and writing. Yes, this placed even more demand on my time, but any time I spend investing in my kids and actually training them, without passing the responsibility over to Nickelodeon, is absolutely worth it. I saw his concentration levels increase, and he generally did better work. Recently, he did an assessment examination at a school and he passed brilliantly with As. I also noticed that he asked more intelligent questions, and his love for being read to increased. He was no longer forced to read or listen to me read to him, he would actually request that I read to him daily. Something that should make my friend, Farida Ladipo-Ajayi, who is an advocate for children reading, very happy.
Did I even mention that his very poor attention span had even become a prayer point for me. Seeing that transformation really wowed me (and taught me that, sometimes, my prayers reflect a lack of wisdom already available to me).
So, basically, I cut down on screen time for my son, introduced other beneficial activities to fill the time, and I saw improvements in major areas of his life.
Then I had a déjà vu moment when I actually did the same thing in my own life. My entire 24-hour-day was full of screen time. I hated that I was a stay-at-home mom. It was made even worse with the fact that I was a literal ‘Most Likely to Succeed,’ having made a first class and gotten my dream job with the United Nations, only to lay it all down sacrificially as my new mommy season demanded. With no external schedule placing a demand on my time, I filled it with the screen: TV shows, movies, blogs, social media and more. Then one day I had a brain reset and completely shut down the screen. No movies, TV programs, Instagram, blogs, Facebook or Twitter. I felt cut away from the world, and yes, I did miss some important information, but the world didn’t end. In fact, my own world started to come alive again. My brain started to think up more possibilities and ideas beyond comparing my life to someone else’s. I rekindled my love for reading, and boy, did I read or what?
Our finances also started to do more for us, since I was no longer under the pressure to have what was in vogue on the ‘gram. After all, who misses what they don’t see? In fact, I was so out of tune with most happenings in the social scene that if I took an assessment exam based on that, I would have scored parallel Fs. But guess who was winning in the exams of her personal life? Me.
Ah, those private victories! They also bear public testimonies. In that season, my brain had upgraded to do the kind of deep work that gave me a thriving home-based business, platforms I could never have been on (like BellaNaija), and basically a life that still astounds me with how much fruit it bears.
Just maybe some of us are unable to start, complete or see through that brilliant idea that has been stewing in our brains because of the endless hours we spend online. Just maybe those applications have been getting more rejects than they should because the quality of our work is weak, no thanks to the state of our screen-filled grey matter. Screen time has cost us deep work, which really is the game changer, whether at home or in the corporate world. In fact, this is good place to throw in this quote from Deep Work, a book by Cal Newport I highly recommend:
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep, spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realising there’s a better way.
I didn’t know this at the time, but my completely eliminating unnecessary screen time made me do the kind of deep work that has brought me so many results in my life today. Deep work and social media cannot exist together; they are strange bedfellows.
These days, I enjoy a bit of screen and social media time, but in controlled measures. You see, I have lost my taste for a lot of things that interested me then, and I know my son, too, will. Until I lost that taste and got a better grip, I didn’t turn on the screen again. Today, I am no longer overwhelmed by everything online, thereby allowing my brain do deep productive work, and even giving me time to engage in the real relationships with my family and friends.
So dear Stay-at-Home mom, maybe you too need a social media break.