Wish me luck — half-term looms and my family need serious screen time switch-off

Emily Sheffield
Matt Writtle

It’s half-term next week and inwardly there is a girding of will within mothers. Without school, our little darlings, left for even moments, will be wandering zombie-like towards whatever screen lies near, showing all the tell-tale signs of the seriously addicted, fingers twitching, eyes locked. It is a constant war waged within the walls of home. Army-like preparation is the only reprieve from the drilling chorus of constant requests for screens. Panicked messages have been flying for weeks among parents, trying to pack days with play dates, sport dates, any old dates (just not Valentine ones, as you won’t have the time). And even when they’re on these “dates” they must be monitored every second, for they are cunning and resolute in satisfying their constant cravings.

We are so busy contending with the daily onslaught that emerging from the trenches to survey the scene with a dispassionate eye is a rarity. And yet if I were to name the one overriding source of serious contention in my family it is the effort it takes to wrench my two boys from the enveloping soft glow that pulls them in with the surety of a heroin addiction.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his proposed legislation to protect children from mental health problems allegedly exacerbated by tech and gaming giants has all of my support, but unfortunately little of my confidence. Technology has wound its soft, insidious fingers into our lives so succinctly that only cold turkey will suffice, and that simply isn’t going to happen on a scale to enable true benefit. We are too late to this silent war and are already on the losing side.

Google “addiction symptoms” and the similarities are frightening — “Life revolves around the use of a drug” is one definition. That squares with my 13-year-old’s obsession with his PS4. “Becoming secretive, willing to skip work and family obligations in order to get their fix…” This also matches with their habits.

Anxiety, irritability and restlessness interfaced with anger if removed from these screens are ugly traits. “Nearly finished” has become the dread statement from my nine-year-old, with no more meaning in it than government pronouncements on Brexit.

The pleasure they derive when allowed “screen time” is what I find the most unsettling. I thought, like most, that doling out 20 minutes after homework and an hour at the weekend was sensible but it’s akin to thinking you can give an alcoholic one drink and satisfy their thirst.

And I sympathise when they screech that their friends are allowed to play, or are on social media, so why can’t they; it is part of our social behaviour. Look at our own on-screen habits. And for many adults, removing yourself from technology is career destruction.

We must shoulder blame but also recognise that we are up against companies that command the kind of power and profit we can hardly comprehend. Even those within their ranks are quitting, to identify the dangers they learnt on the inside. I don’t have the answers. No one does. I just texted my husband to call a family summit. To lay down new guidelines? Definitely. Go cold turkey? Maybe. Feel free to offer advice. But you’ll have to do it over social media.

Rogue hair, the curse of anyone in front of cameras

This week, like Donald Trump, I too learnt the pitfalls of not adhering to tried and tested formulae surrounding hair control in public. Namely applying so much Ellnet hairspray that even Kim Jong-un’s sister, deputy director of North Korea’s propaganda and agitation department, would be impressed at the firm authority over all strands in danger of demonstrating revolutionary tactics. Alas, I spurned the gold can in the Sky News dressing room.

By round three of reviewing the papers, having been tugged from bed at 4am, it was all unravelling. Because to succeed in the glare of live TV you need all things bodily under tight control, leaving you to focus on the verbal action. My locks swished around my mouth and hung in my sightline — I tried to bat them away so often I’m sure I looked like an extra in a L’Oréal ad. I got confused, what with hirsute insurgency and the animal stories we highlighted: fake tigers, early March hares, groovy city hedgehogs and angry sharks eating the minnows.

I’m sure I started randomly discussing warring foxes, and I think we were still on Brexit…

All eyes on the ice catwalk

New York Fashion Week kicks off today but I fear many eyes will be directed towards the Winter Olympics for their sartorial fix. Figure skating has always dominated in the outlandish outfit department. Spandex and sparkle in equal measure on both sexes. Penny Coomes and Nick Buckland, our British duo, know we won’t just judge them on their moves but the marvel that we hope to feel gazing at their outfits.