Do Your Kids Need a Devices Detox?

Last week in The Zen of Flying I described the stresses that we all go through when we have to fly anywhere. I often fly alone and because my son and I never flew together until he was in his teens, I can only imagine what a nightmare it must be to fly with one or two toddlers. More often than not the over-excitement of perhaps their first adventure into the air quickly turns to tears and frustration as they realise that they are not immune from the long queues and security checks, or endlessly told that they must stay strapped into a boring seat for those endless hours of childhood. So we are no longer surprised to see parents hand over iPads or other similar device once a plane is airborne.

However, what did come as a shock last week was the scale of the tantrum launched by a four year old in the seat in front of me simply because her mother had had the audacity to take the tablet away, after a stewardess insisted because we were landing at Bodrum airport. At one point I worried that the child might actually burst the vein that had suddenly appeared at the side of her face during the screaming fit, which lasted all the way through the arrivals lounge and out to a tourist coach, which I thanked my lucky stars I was not getting onto.


Of course the mothers parenting skills could and maybe should be called into question, but perhaps that is an oversimplification? What I got a sense of was almost like an addict being denied their fix, be it heroin, alcohol or nicotine. So when I read only yesterday that a whole generation of youngsters are becoming so reliant on their devices that they can eventually display the classic signs of a serious addiction, I was not in the least surprised.

By the age of seven, a child born in Europe or the USA will have spent an entire year (8,766 hours) of their lives looking at computer, TV and game console screens. By 13, it will be three whole years. So is it any wonder that recognised conditions like Facebook Depression and Cyber-bullying are on a steep upward curve as well as other more established problems caused by the sedentary effect of long periods of inactivity beyond typing at a keyboard or how child peer pressure can lead to increased blood pressure and extreme behavioural problems.

Is this a new thing? Surely someone somewhere would have looked into this? Seemingly not is the industry wide reply because for all the billions spent on research and development, none of the big boys like Apple, Microsoft, Google et al. have ever admitted that their products have a negative addictive affect… really? Nothing? Although when pressed on the matter you may occasionally get a high placed company exec to admit that there may be a problem but they have insufficient information to make that call. This is a little like the owner of a field of opium poppies telling us that they are simply growing the flowers for display purposes only and although they have heard that there may be some people out there, who use their poppies in another way, which ultimately destroys thousands of lives – it is simply hearsay as no one has formally made them aware of such a problem.

Of course most research (although we are told there is very little) would have been carried out by industry insiders, who ultimately decide what information is and isn’t released to the public domain. So no problem with that closed circle of control then? Why would they tell us there is a massive problem being stored up for society and the way society works if it will affect their bottom line profit?

If you don’t believe there is a problem (because no one at Apple or Microsoft has told you so) then ask the top executives of those and other IT companies, why most of them severely restrict the use of devices in their own children and perhaps more importantly, where they send their own children to school? Because the really odd thing is that most of them send their kids to schools, where phones and devices are actually banned. Why is that? How exactly have they come to the conclusion that this is the best way forward for their own kids, when all along they are spending millions on marketing to other peoples kids, whose heads are now rarely raised from one screen or other, be it at the dinner table, in front of the TV, in their rooms and oh yes in their school playgrounds?

At the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in California’s Silicon Valley, where devices are strictly banned, at least three quarters of the children there are from families, where one or both parents work as top end managers and executives within the digerati – at the likes of ebay, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple… why exactly is that?

In conclusion I am not leaping from some Luddite closet with the intention of telling the world that all technology is bad or suggesting we go back to the time of pre-technical age teaching. All I am saying is that everything has its right time and that using iPads and phones to distract or babysit your kids is simply storing up problems for the future. Childhood is a very important time, where socialisation and things like sharing and learning to use your own imagination through play that doesn’t involve small characters being chased across computer screens by monsters or bad monkeys, is very important.


So let your kids be kids while they still can, because all the technology in the world will be waiting for them when they are older and able to understand that there is much more to life than computer games, your Facebook or Twitter friends or followers count and perhaps the most important fact of all – that their devices do actually have an off switch.


The Zen of Flying

In the next few months many of us will take to the skies and perhaps fly off on business although at this time of year it is more likely to be to a holiday destination. Some of you may enjoy the excitement and treat every flight as a trip into the unknown, while most of us would rather get the damn thing over with as quickly as possible and if there was such a thing as teleporter – like in the Star Trek series – we would leap at that chance. However, until that cheesy 60’s sci-fi fantasy is somehow turned into a reality, we have little choice but to endure airports and the ever more penny pinching airlines that fly from them. Let’s face it beyond the fluffy advertising hype – of serene looking couples with well behaved children being led to their seat by a smiling, cabin staff version of Mary Poppins – unless you are one of the chosen few in business or first class, your flight will be cramped and uncomfortable. And yet there are ways of making it a little easier and perhaps a bit more endurable if only we could tweak our thinking.

check in hell

Too many of us believe that we have something important to say that an airline wants to hear. But the harsh reality is that once you’ve booked and paid your money, and they have exhausted every last avenue for extracting more money out of you for extras like a seat number or loading a suitcase, things only 5 years ago you got for free, too many airlines then treat you as a burden to be shunted from point A to point B as quickly and cheaply as they can possibly manage. So the first thing you need to understand is that all the shouting and complaining in the world is not going to improve your journey one little bit. However, the one area you can still express yourself in the only language they still understand is by telling yourself that you will never fly with them again… and stick to it even if that means resisting a nice little discount, when you next come to book a trip on-line. Because at the end of the day your hard earned money is your one and only real weapon against cheap and nasty penny pinching or poor service.

There is another important way you can reduce the stress of flying and that is to get your mindset right and take some simple steps from the very beginning. So for what it is worth I will now make a list of the things I do to make my encounters with airports and airlines more endurable.

1. Accept you have no control over any of it. If the weather is bad or the aircraft has a technical fault or the incoming plane is delayed, all the desk banging in the world is not going to change that situation one iota. The only thing it will achieve is to perhaps annoy the front of office staff, who have a similar lack of control over the situation, but more importantly it will lead to an increase in your own stress and anger hormones, which will take some time to be expelled from your body. So take a deep breath, force a smile and sit down to read or listen to some music. Then imagine that you are detaching yourself from what is going on around you, the moans the angry words perhaps. Because by retreating into yourself, a place where few people can touch you, you will be creating your own private comfort zone.

airport chaos

2. Before you even get to the airport you can reduce the potential for stress. Start by allowing plenty of time to get there and also think more carefully about what you will take with you. Too many of us fill our suitcases to the top and perhaps chance a little over the weight limit. So the entire journey to the airport is consumed with one thought, will I get away with it? or will they make me pay a kings ransom for the extra Don’t do it, don’t ruin your journey before you even start. Do you really need every last thing in that suitcase? By leaving at least a kilo of your limit un-used you will take away all that unnecessary anxiety over things that are not really that important. Better still don’t take any luggage beyond hand luggage if you can. Nowadays, the price of loading a single suitcase is absurdly reaching the same level as the cost of the flight ticket. If you are going on a sunny holiday, you often find that you wear the same things almost every day, which you could wash through or better still, simply buy a few extra clothes when you arrive, for a fraction of the cost of loading that suitcase. A few years ago a survey of high street travel agents showed that most holiday makers don’t even use between a third and a full half of the stuff they cram into their suitcases.

3. By all means have a celebratory drink of alcohol once you are finally checked in, but try and keep it to just the one, especially if you are in a window seat. De-hydration is one of the main reasons people arrive frazzled and booze will always do that. If nothing else make sure you have a small bottle of water to keep your fluids up.

4. We can rarely dictate who is sitting in front or behind us. It could be a sweet old couple who sleep all the way but equally you could climb onboard to realize you are smack bang in the middle of 2 screaming babies or the children from hell. Loosen your shoes or take them off and always take some earplugs – they may not screen out the noise completely but it will at least help. Also you could also take an eye mask, so you can at least visually and mentally escape from the chaos all around you. However, if that fails to work never be afraid to ask the parents of the children to make them behave. If that doesn’t work ask the cabin staff to control them, don’t worry about ruffling feathers because the likelihood is you will never see these people again in your entire life. The same can also be said of the person in front of you, who, the moment the seatbelt sign goes off, their chair back is virtually in your lap: Don’t sit there and seethe for hours on end, do something about it!

smiling plane

5. Night flying and long connection lay-overs are another source of unnecessary stress, especially if you are perhaps saving a pittance against what you would need to pay for a better connected or day-time flight. If you can afford it pay that extra and save yourself a day of your life, which you will more often than not lose because you needed to sleep off the horrors of that long night flight.

So go on, try some of these things next time – and you may be surprised by just how endurable the whole sorry business of flying then becomes.