Book Angel Booktopia is delighted to welcome Pete Johnson today to share his experience with digitally detoxing for his latest book How to Update Your Parents.
DO CHILDREN REALLY NEED A DIGITAL DETOX?
My new book ‘HOW TO UPDATE YOUR PARENTS,’ features my scariest scene ever. According to many of its young readers. It is the moment in which Louis’s parents announce that ‘all electronic media will be banned in the house for one whole week?
Louis’s immediate reaction – he jumps up to ring ‘Childline’ as ‘no child should be made to live without an iPhone – is mirrored by fellow tweens who declare, ‘Louis’s parents are completely out of order’ and ‘I’d run away from home if my mum and dad ever did that.’
The response of parents has, generally, been very different. They support Louis’s parents, when they say, ‘We’re all too busy peering at screens’ and appreciate what Louis’s dad means when he declares, ‘I believe we’re losing something very precious. Like all the memories we can share and remember forever.’
It is this dramatic divide of opinion, which inspired ‘How To Update Your Parents.’ Here was a subject, about which every parent and tween I interviewed, had something to say.
I must admit to having strong opinions myself.
But first a word of explanation: I’m a child of the 1970s which means I grew up at a time when there was only one phone in the entire house – in the hall – and neither my sister nor I were encouraged to use it for long, as the phone was really for ‘important calls.’ This feels about four hundred years ago now. But I grew up loving books, the cinema, television, newspapers and later the theatre. So I don’t think it did me any harm.
Recently, when as part of the research for ‘How to Update your Parents,’ I lived for a week without any Internet coverage, I didn’t miss it very much at all. Yes, I missed Google (there are no substitutes) and felt out of the loop at times. But I didn’t miss at all the constant pings and distractions. And as a result my concentration levels soared and I both wrote and read (as opposed to skimmed) much more.
But when I mentioned the result of this experiment to my nephew, Adam, I ended by saying. ‘Of course I might just be turning into a fogey.’ He replied quickly with a knowing smile. ‘I would say the jury is still out of that one.’
He has a point.
I share many of the older generations’ frustrations with how life has changed. For instance, the way we often – even when we’re having a meal – now spend much of the time gawping at screens. Occasionally someone might share a picture, but often we’re totally locked away in our own worlds, as if the people we’re sitting with are of lesser importance to what’s happening online.
But when Dad, in ‘How to Update your Parents’ makes this point, Louis immediately replies. ‘Don’t take it personally, that’s just how people live now, because the Internet is way more interesting than us.’
And that’s the special pleasure of being a writer. You frequently have characters who see things very differently to you. And Louis actually challenges my beliefs (prejudices?)
So I immersed myself totally in Louis’s world even spending hour after hour watching vlogs, exactly as he does. And after a while I could appreciate just why, many young people – like Louis – feel so connected to vloggers, who have become the most famous people I (and possibly you) have never heard of.
And then there is the magical moment when your character just seems to take over – you are merely the humble scribe, dashing down their thoughts and opinions which transcend yours.
As ‘How to Update Your Parents’ is a comedy it also means every viewpoint is satirised. For instance Louis’s dad is keen to get everyone outside, appreciating the seasons and the wonderful countryside, as he claims he used to do. But Louis’s grandparents remember the past rather differently, saying all Louis’s dad wanted to do, ‘was lie on his bed and listen to extra, loud music. We had to push him outside.’
How reliable are our memories? Are we really wanting to recapture a glorious time, which never quite existed?
I hope ‘How to Update Your Parents’ asks some good questions that will get both tweens and parents talking – and laughing.I end with an observation. For all the launch events of ‘How to Update your Parents,’ pupils were asked to spend one evening in a technology time warp. Predictably a few found the whole experience extremely gruelling and couldn’t go through with it.
But many others followed the example of Louis’s family by playing board games and going to the park, etc, with their parents and really enjoyed this alternative life style. They also said they would be happy to do this again. Not every night but occasionally, certainly.
So despite what you may have heard – there are still times when most children are happy to put down their iPhones and play ancient board games with actual human beings.
I’m distinctly cheered by this. How about you?