Categories
Homesteading Lifestyle

Preparing for growing on our homestead

Warmer weather means it’s planting season

By Steve W

The sun is starting to peak out from behind the clouds. That means it’s growing season. After the bleak snows of winter it’s great to see rabbits scurrying across the fields and the birds out earlier each morning.

As the madness of Covid-19 persists it is more important than ever to secure food personalised sources. The ability to bake bread, can, preserve and freeze foods is vital. With a large garden area there is no excuse to not grow fruits and vegetables on the homestead.

Investing in seeds for growing vegetables

I recently purchased some butternut squash and spinach seeds (see below).

Squash and spinach seeds

I grabbed a couple of bags of compost from the garden centre and cleaned out the compost bin which you can read about here. I checked last week and saw bugs, beetles and creepy crawlies of all descriptions rooting around inside. Perfect!

Composting

A few piles of grass cuttings, neatly scraped together with a rake, were tossed in as well to add some fertilising power. It won’t be long before the literal fruits of labour shine through.

Using a dog bed to grow veggies

I’m not sure if I’m the only person who uses an old dog bed to grow fruit and veg but it works well. It’s a nice size for starters. Drilling a few holes in the bottom allows for the water to escape.

Dog bed for planting vegetables

Keeping pests away from the produce

Creep crawlies of the unwanted kind often find a way into the wrong areas. Slugs are a nuisance so I fill empty tin cans with out-of-date beer to attract them in. It works a treat and they climb in to have a look, attracted by the yeast. Be warned, it can be a pretty messy affair cleaning them out.

Salt always seemed a bit extreme as it makes the slugs swell up and effectively explode. The farmer next to us sprinkles little rings of salt around his plantings to keep them away.

Using an old car to grow tomatoes

Even though it makes for an unsightly viewpoint, old cars littering our fields are useful. As well as providing parts for current models, vehicles like our rusted, vintage mini provide a good option for tomato growth.

The windows create an excellent greenhouse effect. When the sun truly comes out it gets very hot and humid inside, leading to a massive growth spurt and some juicy red tomatoes for tea.

Plan for the worst, hope for the best

Look at whatever space you have available to grow on. Whether it be a few plant pots on the balcony of a high rise flat or a spacious garden. I don’t want to be alarmist but our freedoms are under attack.

Food shortages and supply of commodities will become scarce as and when new crises occur. These could be health related, conflict, civil unrest or similar.

Having your own food source is clean, healthy and helps keep you to be prepared should the shit hit the fan. Plus, what’s tastier and more satisfying than sitting down to a nice lettuce, tomato and carrot salad that all came from your garden, grown from your own hand?

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Do you live on a homestead or interested in this lifestyle? Continue the conversation by sending an email to escapersmedia@gmail.com with your thoughts.

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Homesteading Lifestyle

Composting on the Homestead

Preparing for growing plants and vegetables this summer

Steve W tackles the composter

With all of the bad weather we’ve been having lately, it was bound to happen. The wind caught our composting bin and it blew away! Leaving behind a huge pile of mushy mud and melon peels decomposing at a glacial pace.

As soon as the bin disappeared, the dog jumped in and started scraping away at the heap left behind. Compost was shooting around all over garden.

I swiftly cut away the (now defunct) electric fence wire and set about clearning up as best as I could.

Pile of Compost in Hedge
The stormy weather blew away the composting bin

Don’t put tea bags in the compost bin

There are a few harsh lessons I’ve learned from keeping a compost bin. Firstly, don’t put tea bags in because they don’t break down at all. I should’ve known this. I didn’t. Let’s move on.

Also, melon rinds might break down eventually but they take an awfully long time to decompose. Next time I’ll slice them into smaller pieces before throwing them in.

Egg shells are apparently good for adding calcium to the soil. Smash them up with a hammer first though or they’ll just sit there. Recycling bags don’t really decompose very quickly either. Emptying the debris out first would’ve been a better option.

Spade and Cart of Compost
The compost got loaded into a cart for transportation

Secure the composting bin in a safer location

Even though the bin was tucked inside a hedge it was still vulnerable to the elements. Clearing up the mess was a laborious and time-consuming job but with spring on the way it was necessary. I am hoping to plant some vegetable seeds soon so needed to get the garden into some sort of order.

As the grass gets dryer I plan on bringing out the lawn mower more frequently and adding grass piles to the relocated composter. The goats can hoover up any excess trimmings.

Grabbing my spade and pull-along cart I loaded up the compost and did a few runs back and forth to the new location. I used a power hose to wash down the bin as best as I could and, aside from some oil splashed on the corner, it looked a lot cleaner.

Relocated Compost Bin
The bin is now connected to a tree

Using the compost bin

Now safely secured to a tree, the bin is about three quarters of the way full. The broken hatch at the bottom has been replaced. Any excess compost was put into my growing area, which is an old dog bed with holes drilled in the bottom.

I bought a couple of bags of soil from the local garden centre. The seeds have arrived in the post. Butternut squash and lettuce will be on the menu this summer hopefully. I’ll keep you posted.

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Do you live on a homestead or interested in this lifestyle? Continue the conversation by sending an email to escapersmedia@gmail.com with your thoughts.

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Homesteading Lifestyle

5 lifestyle and agriculture channels that I follow

YouTube has a wide variety of farming, prepping and homesteading content available

Our editor Steve W picks out his favourites

Farm life on just a few acres of land

Pete Larson lives with his wife Hilarie and their three children on “Just a Few Acres” of land outside New York. Pete quit his job as an architect after becoming increasingly miserable and dissatisfied with corporate life.

Now the couple farm the land, keep cattle and livestock, run a farm shop and much more. Pete clearly knows what he is doing and (dodgy jokes aside) watching each episode is always an education.

The Neals’ Homestead

The first thing that stands out about the Neals is their vibrant zest for life. They are constantly active. I’m not completely sure about the family dynamics but the family matriarch does most of the talking.

She is often accompanied by “old guy”, who clearly holds decades of experience and can tell a yarn or two. These happy homesteaders offer a wide variety of skills and are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.

Bush craft gets bush radical

Hanging around in the chilly woods of Alaska may not be everybody’s cup of tea. Off-grid experts Dave and Brooke Whipple have turned it into an art. Dave openly discusses life issues such as accumulation of material possessions and debt.

His story has been picked up by many media outlets. He is clearly very talented at building strong structures. The couple were originally discovered on American reality TV.

Growing Hazelnuts in Ireland on Gubb Farm

One of my more recent discoveries and closer to home too. Gubb Farm is based on an island in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.

The channel is designed for those interested in organic food, hazelnuts, regenerative agriculture, soil biology and learning how to generate an income from a small farm holding.

It’s farm life – unfiltered.

Survive the apocalypse with essential prepping

I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with the term “prepping” for some reason. The media often uses it as a loaded term to describe people who run from zombies or load up on ammo and tins of dried beans to avoid government restrictions.

Dave from Prepping Essentials seems disappointingly normal. There’s not a firearm in sight. All he focuses on is good old fashioned hard work and plenty of ingenuity to make his small holding dream a reality.

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Homesteading

How to keep warm on a homestead

Gathering sticks, chopping wood and burning coal

Our editor Steve W goes out gathering fire wood

Any homesteader will know the feeling. You wake up early, look out of the window and the fields and lane are covered in a thick blanket of white snow.

If you are staying at home then great. Snowballs, snowmen and snow angels await. If you’ve got to dig the car out and drive to work then it suddenly becomes less enticing.

It’s not only the prospect of snow that gets me shivering. Any sort of cold weather seeps right into the old bones these days.

The chilled winds and freezing rain that hit Spring Farm make me question whether this is such a good idea. A couple of hours and the work is done. A glowing log fire roaring and the whole project seems much more appealing.

Blocking up the old chimney

We are lucky to have not one but three open fireplaces. Two are in operation, with the third chimney closed off. A piece of lead was laid on top and hammered down to stop any inquisitive winged locals from having a nose on down.

We have bird guards on the other two. These allow the smoke to escape out, without anything large creeping in. I’ve seen them called chimney cowls as well. Regardless, they come in all shapes and sizes but do an important job.

three chimneys

After a thorough sweep we stuffed a lot of old cardboard up to block it off. Then we slotted some wood in to where the grate had been removed. Occasionally on windy days you hear a slight gust of wind whistling through. It’s not really a problem, and the chimney is secure.

Sitting in front of an open fire

There is plenty of dead wood outside to collect for a winter fire. As soon as the weather starts improving and we head in to spring, we then start gathering wood for the coming year.

In all aspects of homesteading, preparation is key

Escapers

The yield of suitable firewood is always plentiful, but we have a few stacks of pallets down the yard in case we run short. At the local agricultural merchant you can buy kindling in little sacks. A couple of these, surrounded by some cardboard, is great for getting the fire started.

Whenever we first started out and were wet behind the ears we bought fire logs. They were very easy to use and lit very fast. However, they became pretty expensive over time and we don’t need them now we know how to light a fire properly.

Some people use flammable liquids. We have never done this, in case the children were to get hold of it. In can be effective when used safely.

Fireside

Outside chopping up firewood

Going out with an axe, chopping up firewood can fairly work up a sweat. Like any fuel gathering, it is best to collect it when you don’t need it so you aren’t left scraping around the homesteading yard in sub-zero temperatures desperately looking for fuel.

The children found out some logs for us to burn (see image below). Even though there is a bit more life left in these than I would like, I grabbed the saw and cut them up anyway. They burned just fine when used to top up an already hot fire. Using this type of wood to start it off would be more difficult.

When sawing always make sure you have a clear space (easier said than done in this homestead!). We use a pair of gloves too. These provide an extra layer of protection in case the saw were to slip. They also keep the hands warm outside.

There is an old saying that sawing wood warms you twice. First in the cutting and again in the burning. It’s true!

Fire wood, saw and gloves

Burning coal on the homestead

A big 25kg bag of coal can be heavy to lump around so watch your back when lifting. Once the fire is heating up, using some special fire tongs to place a few lumps of coal in and around the heat source is beneficial.

Don’t add the coal until it’s hot enough though or it will smoulder. Once the fire is blazing we use a little shovel to scoop four or five lumps on at a time. The coal scuttle has a handle so is useful for lifting and emptying straight on.

Remember that towards the end of the bag there is a lot of accumulated coal dust. This gathers at the bottom of the scuttle too and can blow back on to your clothes or all around the fireplace if you aren’t careful.

Coal bucket and shovel

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Homesteading Lifestyle

Six benefits of homesteading

Hard work and a variety of skills are needed to thrive as a homesteader

Izabela H identifies some of the main features of homestead life

Recently Steve explained how he is ready to move into a new way of life. Below we will cover the basics you should know about homesteading. I mean, wouldn’t self-sufficiency be an amazing thing to implement in your life? 

What about preparing and preserving food on your own, with no preservatives?

We will explore these and more in just a moment.

#1 Preserving food on a homestead

Many people underestimate how beneficial and easy food preservation actually is. There are so many reasons why it is indeed such a fantastic thing to do that it is hard to count them all. Here is just a small list of them:

1. Saving money. It is really easy to save up when you either grow your own fruit and veggies or bulk buy from the store. That way, you get a low price and plenty of in-season fruit and vegetables to enjoy!

2. Enjoying seasonal fruit/vegetables. If you crave a strawberry parfait in the middle of winter, you are not going to get any good strawberries, as they are out of season. However, if you preserve the produce in summer, you can enjoy it all year round without any issues!

3. Healthier for you and the family. Through preserving the food yourself, you are aware of anything and everything that is in it – no hidden flavourings, colourants, or preservatives. It is much healthier to eat that way and you will feel better in no time, thanks to the decrease of foreign chemicals in the food.

4. Prolonging the shelf-life. Yes, canned food from the store can last ages sometimes, but that is mostly thanks to artificial preservatives. Home-made pickles, jams, etc. can last much longer than you think! It is a very efficient way of storing food for later use while making sure it is still as healthy as possible.

5. Minimising waste. Food preservation is not only great for your bank and seasonal cravings, but also for the environment. Reusing is always above recycling, so give those old jars, bottles, and glassware a new purpose!

Preserving food in tin cans and jars

#2 Raising Livestock on a homestead

Raising livestock does not have to be exclusive to farmers and breeders. Of course, if you want to keep cattle or larger animals, they will require a large plot of land to accommodate their needs. However, what about the other kinds of livestock?

Chickens are very popular to keep, as they do not require as much space as one might think. All you need is a coop and an enclosed run and you are ready to go! The space required is, of course, dependent on how many chickens you want to keep.

Chickens are surprisingly cosmopolitan when it comes to food and are known to enjoy a wide range of tasty treats! However, it’s super important to do your research before you get your girls as there are some foods that they definitely should not have! 

Chicken Guard

Chickens are fantastic, as they lay eggs every day (or every other day), so you will not need to worry about buying eggs ever again! They can also be kept for meat, which guarantees top-quality meat for you and your family.

Rabbits are another popular option, as rabbit meat is very healthy and has very little fat. There is a wide variety of breeds you can keep, but the most recommended is the New Zealand White rabbits, as they are very calm and grow to a decent size (9-12lb). The furs can also be used in many different manners, if tanned correctly, making rabbits a good choice for crafty people too.

There are many other animals, but chickens and rabbits are the most common amongst people with smaller gardens and not much time to sacrifice on animal upkeep. You have to be aware of proper ways of slaughtering your animals if you choose to keep them for meat, of course.

Chickens on a homestead
Various breeds of chickens are often found on a homestead

#3 Gardening around the homestead

Gardening can not only be therapeutic and relaxing but also very beneficial for you and your family. Gardening does not only involve planting and caring for stunning flowers – you can prepare your garden to accommodate herbs, vegetables, and even fruit. Here is why:

1. Exercise. Gardening provides plenty of outdoor exercise, which is a fantastic way to do something productive and stay in shape. Whether it is more movement or an increased dose of vitamin D, you will feel much better after a nice gardening session!

2. Top-quality produce. The food you grow will be much healthier and more delicious, due to the lack of harsh chemicals used on mass-grown produce. Thanks to that, you will have nutritious and fresh herbs, fruit, and veggies that you can eat in-season or preserve for later use!

3. Smaller shopping receipts. There is no denying that growing your own food is going to drastically reduce the cost of your shopping and make your receipts much shorter. Yes, gardening requires work, but it pays you back with the sense of accomplishment, saving in the long-run, and delicious food!

4. Less waste, more food preservation. As mentioned above, whatever leftovers you have from your harvest, you can preserve for later! We also covered this topic in previous blog posts when discussing the freegan community.

5. Better for the environment. Transporting produce around the country (and the world in general) produces a lot of toxic waste and pollution. By lessening your contribution to that, you will positively impact the environment and get delicious food!

Gardening on a homestead
Growing plants, fruits and vegetables

#4 Life without electric: Off-Grid Living

Living off-grid means having your own power source, water source, etc. Basically, it is living without the need to pay your bills. Sounds impossible, right? The good news is: it is entirely possible!

However, you need to be prepared to face the challenges that will come with the start of your independent life. For example, how will you deal with sewage and waste?

The first thing to tackle is power.

Solar panels are most commonly used, as they can be simply installed on your house or property. Between 2,000 – 3,000w is needed to power a standard house with a 2-4 person family. The other options include wind and water turbines.

Those two are dependent on the location of your property, as water turbines are best in bodies of flowing water, while wind turbines are not only quite big but also generate noise and can be dangerous to some wildlife (not mentioning the large upfront cost). The more “old-fashioned” thing you can use is a generator.

Those are relatively cheap to run, depending on what you use to power it (petrol being the cheapest option). Unfortunately, they produce a lot of pollution and noise, which renders them the least favourable option.

The best way to save on your power usage is to purchase efficient lightbulbs, appliances, and batteries. Grade A+ appliances are the best, especially when it comes to fridges and freezers, as those use up the highest amounts of energy in our households.

The recommended lightbulbs are LEDs, with between 8-20w of power, while batteries should be rechargeable for reusability.

The second issue to tackle is water.

Living off-grid does not mean you have to find a lake in order to bathe or wait for the rain with a bar of soap, ready to shower. The easiest way of having a steady water supply is to live by a body of water, such as a lake or a river. However, this is not always possible, so there are alternatives.

Collecting rainwater is very common, but can be quite an expensive installation – costing over £10,000. This is due to the need to store water in an underground tank and to filter it, in order to make it safe for consumption. Another alternative is to have a borehole drilled.

This, however, requires a geological survey as well as a company to drill the borehole on your land for you, which adds to the initial cost.

All of the above examples may have an initial cost that will scare your wallet or bank account, but they will save you a lot of money in the long run. It is a worthy investment, as you will not have to pay bills anymore (or at least minimise them)!

Living off grid
Solar panels can be part of off grid living

#5 Cooking And baking your own food

Cooking and baking are those everyday activities we do not really pay much attention to. Oftentimes, they just have to be done and that’s the end of the story, while we go to carry on with our busy lives. However, it does not have to be a chore.

Both of those activities are very good at relaxing you and have similar effects to meditation. They are also an outlet for creativity. Alongside reducing stress and increasing your confidence, there are plenty more benefits.

Cooking your own meals as compared to buying ready/frozen meals or ordering takeaway lets you put in only the ingredients you want – no artificial substances or preservatives!

Including fresh ingredients will allow you to cook up nutritious and delicious meals while enjoying your time in the kitchen. Cooking is a great way to bond with your children too – it is a fun way to spend time and create something together.

The same goes for baking – it is very rewarding. Baking is therapeutic and lets you try out new recipes to recreate your favourites – from basic bread to fancy cakes.

Just think: how healthy would home-baked bread be? How about homemade buns and croissants for breakfast? Doesn’t that sound appealing? Besides being much healthier, you can fully customise your baked goods. Want to put some poppy seeds on the bread? No problem.

There are so many options that make both cooking and baking incredibly versatile and better than store-bought alternatives, so why not give it a go?

baking your own food
Grow, bake, eat

#6 Building With Wood

How many times have you gone to a furniture shop, looked at this lovely, wooden table and then left the shop in a hurry after seeing its price tag? We have all been there at one point or another. Fortunately, you do not have to sacrifice your dreams of a cosy, wood-filled home – try building it yourself!

You do not have to be a master craftsman in order to create something out of (seemingly) nothing. We have all had some spare wood or furniture that can be renovated. Building with wood is not only going to save you money, allow you to experiment and try stuff out but also to reduce your waste!

With practice, you will be able to create an even better-looking coffee table – and a unique one at that. Who knows, maybe it will turn into a hobby and a potential career prospect?

You will, of course, need some tools in order to be able to measure, saw, sand, and cure the wood. Therefore, the initial cost of preparing for making your own wood items may seem high, but it will save you a lot of money in the long run. For example, you can purchase a chicken coop for about 2 chickens for around £300.

However, you can purchase chicken wire, wood, and other items for either less, or purchase more to save for other projects and build it yourself. That way, you can ensure the safety of your animals and customise the structure to your needs!

Building with discarded pallets is a favourite of ours. Keep an eye out for more wooden pallet-related suggestions in future blog post entries.

building with wood
Wood is an incredible tool for homesteading

The above are some of the basic starting points on your journey to homesteading.

We thank you for reading this article because homesteading is such a beneficial and fascinating matter, especially for people who want to live self-sufficient lives.

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Do you live on a homestead or interested in this lifestyle? Continue the conversation by sending an email to escapersmedia@gmail.com with your thoughts.

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Homesteading Lifestyle

Is it time to live on a homestead?

Changes to worldwide circumstances are making prepping essential

By Steve W

To say it’s been a strange year would be an understatement. Goodbye 2020. Good riddance. We never want to see you again! Unfortunately, we have a slight problem. The early stages of 2021 are shaping up to be much of the same.

Unless you’ve been stationed under a very large rock for the past 12 months you’ll know that the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across the globe. As masks, social distancing and financial furloughs become part of everyday life, we are truly entering an uncertain era.

Covid-19 has made for a strange 12 months

My introduction to Homesteading

Throughout the entire pandemic I’ve been working as usual in my regular job. The hours might be slightly reduced and the circumstances different but I’ve had to travel each and every day to a physical location. At the end of each shift it has been a great comfort to return home to a place that is more or less isolated.

No longer a functioning farm, our property is set off-road, barely visible from the surrounding lanes, beautifully barricaded by a fortress of trees, fields and hedges. Streams trickle gently around those fields. An enclosed glen, affectionately named “the enchanted forest” by my children, lies just a five minute walk away.

Despite living on a former farm, and adopting many of the daily practices congruent with a homestead, I’ve never actually considered myself as a homesteader. Livestock has come and gone, fruits and vegetables get planted each year, wood is chopped, winter prepping takes place every October/November. This is what I’ve always done, never thinking too hard about the labels.

The accidental homesteader

As the madness persists and a desire for self-sufficiency grows, I am starting to think it might be time to come out of the hay shed and become a part-time “homesteader”. While I previously categorised anyone diligently preparing stock and supplies as one of those types who waited for a zombie apocalypse or were creating some sort of military bunker, I now realise it could soon become a necessary activity.

The zombies are coming – and they want your toilet rolls!

Happy Preppers

Indeed, people were queuing and fighting over toilet rolls just months ago. Therefore, stocking up on beans, rice, porridge and some dried goods, as suggested by Dave from Prepping Essentials, might not be the worst idea in the world, given the current situation.

Will the shit hit the fan? Yes, quite possibly. If becoming a homesteader can help mitigate the potential impacts of a worst case scenario then I am well placed to take on such a challenge and embrace the homestead lifestyle.

I have a few decent skills, but will need to brush up a lot more if I am to retain any kind of self sufficiency. Baby steps at first, but here my journey begins.

A tractor for homesteading
Tractors can be very useful for homesteading

I am not going to be tough on myself. It takes time and years of failure and experience to get to where I need to be. While I am pretty underprepared at present -lacking in certain skillsets- I have picked up a few tips and tricks over the years.

After scribbling down my “assets” on a piece of paper I’ll end with a short list of things I have in my favour…

  • I’m not afraid of hard work.
  • I can light and sustain an indoor and outdoor fire.
  • I have moderate growing experience and plenty of space to grow food in.
  • I have a good set of tools and equipment, including a tractor at my disposal.
  • I am a decent cook, with experience in preserving, canning and baking from scratch.

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Personal Development

Speed reading and ‘showing up’

A recent podcast brought up two valuable lessons in one

By Steve W

I was recently listening to the latest episode of the Copywriter’s podcast. As somebody who consumes hours of podcasts per day, watching a new episode pop up on the RSS feed is a joyous experience. I’m not a copywriter but I do aspire to be able to write my own copy one day, capable of selling and promoting a message.

I’ve been following the host, Nathan Fraser, for a while now and am part of one of his online groups. Fraser acts as the foil for David Garfinkel, a former journalist and current author, described in the intro as the “world’s greatest copywriting coach”. I’m not clued up enough to dispute that. However, given the standard of guests and general quality of information, I’ve learned a ton off both men already.

The reason I am mentioning this is because, on the latest instalment, Fraser mentioned not one but two little nuggets that piqued my interest.

Speed reading, slow reading or something in between

I am an avid reader. Ever since I was small I’ve consumed books as quickly as possible, on a daily basis. Even though a as a society we are drifting towards a greater dependence on digital devices, the honest beauty of a physical book remains. A few years ago, with the bite of family commitments and less time in my life, I realised I was no longer piling through books as swiftly as I desired. Every New Year’s resolution contained something resembling “read more books” which required making more time and missing out on other activities.

Skillshare course on speed reading

It was at this point that I spotted a speed reading course on the Skillshare platform. The grand subtitle promised that I would read more books, get through them quicker, miss out unimportant words (seriously, it said that!). There were a variety of techniques to fly through text books, novels, short stories and more, in record time.

I took the course, implemented the techniques and it worked. I was indeed flying through books in record time as promised. However, I soon realised that I was hardly taking anything in. Whole books were consumed and I could barely recall a couple of major points. True, I’d already picked up the next one, but how beneficial was reading the book to me?

Makes notes and highlight your books

I know some people make copious amounts of notes, highlight whole paragraphs, use sticky notes and all sorts of colours to pick out important points. Books sit on shelves and are brought down multiple times to be read and re-read. I never got this. Why would you go back and read over and over something you’d already completed?

This is where speed reading had let me down, while teaching me an important lesson. I was wasting my time. If I could not take any value or knowledge from my books why was I even reading them at all?

Read one book or ten books?

This is where we return to the dulcet tones of copywriting king Garfinkel and his partner in crime Mr Fraser. “You’re better off reading one book ten times than ten books one time,” said Fraser. And suddenly it hit me. He’s right.

While Nathan may not have coined the phrase (see link above) when it comes to retention of information his advice stands to reason. After listening I immediately went back and re-uploaded my Kindle versions of Atomic Habits and many other titles I felt deserve at least a second chance. I’ll not be speed reading either. It might take longer to finish a book, but that’s probably the point.

80 per cent of success is showing up

The second chunk of wisdom thrown out in the Copywriter’s podcast was attributed to a quote by the film maker Woody Allen. “80 per cent of life is showing up,” said Allen. Naturally, it has since been debated as to whether Allen first came up with this quote. Others suggest he said 99 per cent. The numbers are largely irrelevant.

When Allen says “showing up” I doubt he means just literally showing up. Appearing somewhere doesn’t get things done. Rather, I expect he meant showing up, being consistent, doing the job to the best of your ability, over and over. It ties in with a less succinct phrase I use myself: “If you say you’re going to do something, then do it”.

80 percent of success in life is just showing up

Woody Allen

Be reliable, consistent and show up

Being reliable, offering quality work consistently is an important trait to have. People soon notice if you repeatedly promise the earth and fail to deliver. Everybody misses deadlines, makes mistakes and fails to do stuff they agreed upon at one time or another. We are all flawed human beings.

I’ve know a lot of genuinely good people over the years. They are skilled individuals, whom, with the best will in the world, would buzz with ideas and suggestions and then – just fail to show up. In a physical sense, or at the point of delivery. Nothing would happen. They talk big and deliver small, or in some cases absolutely zilch.

Being consistent, enhancing your reputation as a person who delivers and “shows up” time and again is an important behaviour to adopt and perfect.

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Business

Escaping the office to become an entrepreneur

Julian used his tech skills to set up on his own

By Peter Riegler

According to Investopedia, an entrepreneur is defined as “an individual who creates a new business, bearing most of the risks and enjoying most of the rewards”.

Yet to describe Julian Li as merely as an entrepreneur feels like a big part of his story is being left out. After all, leaving mainland China at such a tender age, Li quickly found that hard work, correctly applied, would help him achieve his life goals.

Despite all of his achievements so far, Julian is only getting started and escaping the office to start life as an entrepreneur was a nudge towards even greater possibilities.

“One day I want to be the CEO of a major company,” he told me when we met earlier this year. “If I can build my business up to a certain point and sell it, then I can use the capital to fund my next venture.”

Always thinking ahead. Just like he was when, aged only 21, Julian left Jiangsu to study in a UK university to receive a solid education and realise his family’s educational aspirations.

The culture was different, the food bland and the weather difficult to deal with, but Julian recalls many positive experiences from uni life.

“Everyone was very friendly and welcoming,” he said. “It helped that there were quite a few students over from China so we had other people to talk to – people with things in common. We all cooked together and chatted about life in China, our upbringing and whereabouts we were from.”

After securing a visa, post-studies, Julian was able to get a job in an IT firm and put his computer programming degree to good use immediately. Jon Fleck, a colleague at the company, remembers a nervous, shy young man coming into the working environment and gradually getting to grips with all that was going on.

“It’s fair to say it was a shock for him,” agreed Fleck. “Coming from another country, studying in England and getting used to things from an educational perpective is one thing, but going in to the working world was entirely different.”

While the office banter and some aspects of working culture were hard to grasp at first, Julian soon settled in.

“He became part of the team and we could see his talent straight away,” added Fleck. “His skills with coding and problem solving were excellent. That was clear to see.”

Working Monday to Friday, 9-5, was suiting Julian Li but the straightforward nature of the work might have stifled his innate creativity if he had allowed it. Always seeking out new problems to solve, Li worked on various projects in the evening and at weekends.

“One of the bosses asked me to code a new website for him and I did it in a couple of days,” said Li. “It looked great and he was really happy so he told his friend who ran a high-end fashion store and the next thing I was improving their site too.

“They paid me really good money but more importantly I enjoyed the work. It felt good creating something and adding a touch of flair to these boring sites, as well as greater usability.”

Being an entrepreneur means working for myself, learning new things every day and being responsible for my own success

Julian Li

Just a year in to office life and Julian was already getting itchy feet. Beginning to think more and more about his future and the type of legacy he wanted to create, he worked with a coach to help design his pathway.

“Getting a coach or a therapist isn’t something I would’ve considered before, but I was given a number of a guy who specialised in career guidance and money coaching so I gave him a call.

“It was a great decision from the start. He made me think about the bigger picture and what I wanted to do with my life, what made me happy. Our conversations shaped a lot of decisions for me.”

Helping Julian with investment options, as well as designing a clear route to personal success, the coach’s impact is already being felt. Starting in China, ending who knpws where? Julian is one step closer to his dream of owning a running his own business.

“I’m already happy with where I’m at but becoming a full-time entrepreneur is my next goal,” said Li. “After all, there is no risk without reward.”

— END —

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Categories
Lifestyle

Social Media: the ultimate in rat race escapism

Checking Facebook, Twitter or Instagram numbs the daily grind – but it comes at a cost

Written and researched by Monica C

Social networking sites are really popular these days. Although they have proven to be effective in connecting people and giving them a safe place to interact with each other online, social networking sites are known to result in addiction.

This has as much to do with the “programming” of these social networking sites as with the natural tendency of people to want to interact with other people. Users of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other similar networks are finding it harder and harder to resist the lure of the interactions, events, and entertainment offered by these sites. 

A recent study shows that while a lot of people want to quit Facebook, not many actually succeed in doing so. In this study, participants were challenged to stop using Facebook for 90 days. Most participants were unable to get by without logging into Facebook for a few days. Unfortunately, they could not help but become active users again. 

Here are some of the negative effects that can happen when people are addicted to social media networking sites: 

  • FOMO – experts identify the problem as the “fear of missing out” (FOMO). People post and share information on Facebook and other social networking sites all the time. Conversations happen 24/7. This is what many would not want to miss out on. They think that being away from social media for several days or even just a few hours would leave them out-of-touch with the latest news or happenings. 
  • Depression – this psychosocial problem develops when people react with envy towards the posts that they see in the social networking sites. It is not unusual for people to put up “brag posts” with pictures and videos showing their latest travels, most delicious dishes from their kitchens, hip bars they visited, restaurants with the most scrumptious food, and other things that they want to show the world. Unfortunately, not everyone tends to be happy about these posts. 

Social media can make some people feel inferior. It can distort their perspective on reality as they try to keep up with the Joneses. When they cannot meet these self imposed standards, they become depressed.  

  • Source of Validation – it makes people happier when they get more likes and shares on social media. It validates that what they posted was worthy of the space on social media and the time and attention of their audience. It’s actually not their popular post but the number of likes and shares that they become happy about. 
  • The Network Effect – this refers to the idea that networks become more valuable and influential as more and more people join them. The same name was used in a web experience project created by computer scientist Jonathan Harris. The project involves exposing subjects to audio-visual materials triggered by any one or several of the 100 behaviors. 

The study reflected what happens when you surf and use social media and experience a sensory overload. Furthermore, a time limit was set to the information that was presented to them. 

The experience illustrated how the sense of urgency the networks create compels people to want to be on social media and explore their content.

The more members there are in the network, the more people want to be in it. Facebook, the most popular social network today, is one example of a site that people just cannot bear to be away from. 

I do not believe social media was originally intended to so addictive. The owners and developers wanted people to join their networks so they can connect with their family, friends, and other people who are far from their location.

As the number of social media sites increased, so did the number of people who are actively joining and participating in them and owners realized how profitable it is to keep users on their platforms all day, consuming content, clicking on ads and revealing more and more personal information about themselves which can be mined and sold on to advertisers.

Soon enough, the power of social media in terms of influencing consumer behavior was discovered. It became the usual practice for programmers, designers and marketers to craft messages and content to draw people into the network and to keep them in the network for as long as possible. This has, evidently, led to social media addiction. 

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Social Media Tricks: Notifications Numbers and Algorithms

Most social media networks trick you with the same method: notifications. You would often notice a number that’s conspicuously displayed on your notifications bar. This notifications number shows you how many people recently watched your videos, checked out your posts, liked your images, or wrote comments on your page.

A higher number, of course, draws you in and makes you curious about who visited your page, what feedback they have, and which content they specifically Liked or Shared among others. 

That number icon works much like those links used for “clickbait” strategies. In internet marketing, online businessmen would use catchy phrases that lure potential customers into clicking the link to get more information or to see more content.

It excites you enough to compel you to click the link. The same is true with the notifications numbers. You are intrigued to know more about who your visitors were and what they have to say to or about you. 

To illustrate how the notifications numbers work, take a look at these two statements:

News: “Elisha lost weight in 30 days by following a strict diet and rigid exercise.”

Clickbait Version: “You wouldn’t believe how Elisha lost weight in 30 days!”

The notification icon works like that. The number “10” you see on the notification is like a clickbait that says, “You can’t believe how many people loved your posts!” or “See what people are saying about your great vacation pictures!”

As you are constantly drawn to the notifications numbers and feel compelled to click them, your addiction to social media grows stronger. 

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Constantly refreshing the endless feed…

Tweaking Algorithms

Social media sites strategically filter their algorithms from time to time to take a closer look at user behaviour. When they tweak their algorithms, they monitor and track how their users respond to their changes.

They see which changes resulted in more engagement and which ones made the users stay in the sites longer. The goal, of course, is to do more tweaks that keep more users in the site for longer periods of time. 

While it has been established that social media was not meant to be addictive when the various networks were launched, there are indications that deliberate strategies to make social media more addictive are now being used. Fortunately, users do not have to fall prey to these strategies. 

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Algorithms are designed to keep us hooked

Self-Assessment: Acknowledge Your Addiction to Social Media 

In the previous chapter, you learned how social media can be addictive. You also found out what social media developers do to keep it that way. In the next chapter, you will find helpful tips to fight this addiction. But before you can overcome this problem, you need to acknowledge your addiction first.

I Am an Addict 

Admit that you are addicted to social media. Think of the times when people made constant remarks on how often you are seen online. Think of the times when you were unable to attend to your responsibilities because you were stuck in social networking sites.

When all these instances happen frequently, it is time to admit that you have a serious problem and that you have to do something about it. 

  • Review your previous posts. How many times did you post something online this past week or month? Write down the number of times you posted in a day, a week, and a month. This should make you see exactly how often you post online. 
  • Determine whether each post is necessary to share. For example, if you posted something about what you ate for lunch or where you had your haircut done, think about whether or not it offered any benefit to you and others on your social media network. 
  • Track the time you spend on social media. You can always say that you do not spend that much time on social media, but are you sure that’s really the case? It could be a case of denial. To give you a more accurate measure, track the time you spend online using a timer. Write it down on a notebook or sheet of paper. There are also apps that you can download to track your time use more accurately. 
  • Consider the importance of social media in your life. People use social media in different ways and for different purposes. Think about why you are on social media and what you gain out of your social media activities. Some people spend their extra time in social media because they do not have other things to do. Sometimes, people use social media to gain attention or to meet new people. Understand how you use social media. Have a clearer view of why you use it excessively or why you are addicted to it. 

When you know the causes of your addiction to social media, it will be easier for you to find ways to address the issue. Be honest in your self-assessment. Once you’re done, it is time to move forward and take a step to fight your addiction to social media. 

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Ways to Stop Your Social Media Addiction

As we discussed in the previous chapter, it is easy to fall into the trap of social media addiction but I believe that we can break habits and get our lives back. Falling into dependency on these new platforms is what the developers want. They want you clicking all day and constantly coming back.

While social media networks can help you to connect with your loved ones who are living on the other side of the globe, they can also negatively affect your personal relationships with the people who are near to you. However, it is possible that you can stop your addiction and avoid all of the negative effects. 

Try these tips to start gaining control of your social media usage:

  • Turn off your pop-up notifications. Stop your instant notifications from disturbing your daily routine. The notification beeps you hear will only remind you that something is happening online and will make you feel that you are missing out on something. Turn off your notifications to fight your FOMO. If it will help, just think that when you don’t frequently check your social media accounts, the notification number will increase. By the time you check your social media accounts again, it will become a more exciting experience as you see the increase in number.
  • Limit the time you spend online. After assessing the amount of time you spend online, you will have an idea of how much time you waste every day by mindlessly scrolling down your newsfeed. Knowing this information can help you fight back the urge to stay online. Depending on the severity of your addiction, choose a time limit that would work for you: an hour per working day and a couple of hours during the weekend could be a great way to start. 
  • Be strong enough to fight the urge to add extra time once you reach your personal time limit. This is a good test on your willpower. It might be difficult at first, but it will be rewarding in the end. 
  • Find a new hobby. If the reason for your social media addiction is boredom, then it’s time to find a new hobby. Now that you are able to limit your time online, you can use the extra time to do something else that you love. Or perhaps, there is something that you have always wanted to do but didn’t have enough time for in the past. Read a book, hike with a friend, learn a new skill or a new language, or start your own garden. When you are craving to check your social media accounts, your newfound hobby will keep you occupied and help you fight back the urge to go online.
  • Spend more time with people in real life. Instead of simply sending online messages to your friends and family, pick up the phone and call them up. Set up a date with them instead of simply connecting with them in the virtual world. By doing so, you can create more memories with them in the real world. Don’t feel the need to capture or document every moment you spend together. Just being there with them will give you more satisfaction as opposed to only seeing their faces online. 
  • Use social media like a special treat. Some people who go on a strict diet have “cheat days” when they can allow themselves to eat whatever they want. It is one day in a week when they treat themselves to a cup of ice cream or a slice of sweet pie. Some people would do something special, like go to a movie or get their nails done, as a reward after they did something productive. 
  • You can treat your social media usage in the same way. Reward yourself with extra time in social media after you have achieved a goal or after you have finished a project. This is a great act of self-discipline that could help you prioritize your responsibilities effectively without straining yourself too much. 
  • Go out to meet people in real life. Instead of browsing through strangers’ accounts or stalking celebrities online, find some ways to meet people in your neighborhood. Join local clubs or attend seminars. If you are single, set-up a singles’ night with your friends and ask them to bring a friend, too. If you are married, open your home to another family in your area and have dinner together. 
  • Making connections with people in real life will help you realize that face-to-face encounter is still more fun and exciting than just talking through instant messaging apps.
  • Delete your social media apps. Seeing the apps on the screen of your mobile phone or digital device can be tempting. They make it too easy for you to go online and glance at your social media feeds. Soon enough, you will have wasted precious minutes just mindlessly scrolling through your newsfeed. You can avoid this by deleting your apps. You can still log into your social media accounts the old-fashioned way through your internet browser on your desktop computer or laptop. 

It’s Time for a Social Media Break

It’s hard to do but we need to avoid getting trapped in the virtual world. Right back to when Second Life or World of Warcraft was introduced, it’s been imperative at regular intervals to get your face off the screen and enjoy the pleasures of the real world.

If your social media addiction is extreme, you can take a complete clean break from it to help clear your mind and help get rid of your addiction. Some people are even considering counselling to rid themselves of the problem.

In extreme circumstances deactivate your accounts in Facebook, Instagram, Google Plus, Twitter and other networking sites. This will help you to keep yourself from subconsciously logging into your account automatically.

If you want to keep your accounts active while you’re away, change your passwords. Ask someone you trust to change the passwords for you so you cannot access your accounts even if you want to. Tell that person to give you the passwords after a week or two, or however long you think is necessary.

Keep in mind that handing over your account to someone can be dangerous if it falls on the wrong hands. Make sure to ask someone you can truly trust with this sensitive information. 

When you get back from your social media break, do the following: 

  • Delete some people from your list of friends or unfollow some people you don’t really care about. The more people you are connected with in social media, the more things will show up in your newsfeed. As a result, you will spend so much time scrolling through your newsfeed for the fear of missing out on what’s happening in other people’s lives. If possible, keep your list limited to just your family, relatives, and close friends. 
  • Prioritize the important things in your life. You do not have to be on every social network that’s accessible to you. Check out which ones are most useful and where you can connect with your family and friends more effectively. Stick to at least two sites and delete other accounts that are not beneficial to you. 
  • Don’t post everything that is happening in your life. If you find that you have been posting more than twice in a day, try to limit yourself to just posting once a day. Later on, try to post every other day until you don’t feel the need to post something every single day at all. 

Many studies prove how addiction to social media has greatly affected relationships among families and friends. The good news is that you can do something about it. If you follow the guidelines you’ve learned from this chapter, you will notice that your engagements with people in real life will improve in no time.

The less time you spend on social media, the more time you can spend in nurturing the personal relationships that you have taken for granted due to addiction. 

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Alternative Applications

Gadgets and social media have one thing in common: they are all created to make connecting with people easier and convenient. They are designed to allow people to get in touch with their family and colleagues right away and can be great when used in that way. In addition, the entertainment provided by iOS and Android applications can be beneficial if used appropriately. 

Instead of using addictive social media apps, there are other great applications that you can make use of: 

  • Forest – this is an app that allows you to virtually grow plants in an empty land. In this game, you have to plant seeds that will grow into trees. The more seeds you plant, the more trees will grow until the empty land becomes a forest. The clincher is that you have to keep the app open and the plants will wither and die if you use other apps. 
  • StepLock – this is an app designed to select and block an application until you finish taking a certain number of steps every day. You can select the app that you are trying to stay away from and set the number of steps you need to take before you can open the app again. 
  • StepLock will track the number of steps you take and will block you from opening your selected app, a social media app in this case, if you are unable to reach your target number of steps. This app is free and available to Android users. 
  • Dinner Mode – this is a more limiting app than StepLock in a way that it doesn’t only block you from using a single app but it prohibits you from using your phone completely. This iOS app allows you to set a timer for how long you plan not to use your phone: 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or one hour. 
  • After setting the timer, a prompt will appear telling you to put your phone face-down. If you check your phone before the time you set, a red screen will appear telling you you’ve failed the challenge and asking you if you want to try again.
  • Onward – this is the best tool to use to track your app usage. The app sends automatic reports that provide information on the amount of time you spent on apps within an hour, a day, a week, or a month. It is open to people from different ages all over the world. 
  • The free use of this app will provide you with the basic reports, privacy assurance, accountability tracker, and tools to help you become less addicted to using your phone and certain applications. The paid premium Onward account will give you priority support as well as coping skills and personal coaching from artificial intelligent robot coach Al.

Start changing your online habits by downloading these apps. According to reviews, most people who used these apps were able to combat their addiction to social media and smartphones.

Sloane Davidson, the developer of the Dinner Mode app, shared how many parents are already using the app during their family dinners. 

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Conclusion

Mobile phones and digital devices are supposed to be beneficial to you. The same goes with social media. When using them starts to be detrimental to your psychosocial health, you have to take a stand. You can take positive steps to stop your addiction to digital devices and social media, TODAY. 

A bad habit is difficult to break, but by using the help and tips contained within this book, you will be able to fight your addiction. Share the lessons with your family and friends who are also suffering from the same problem. Overcome your addiction and live happier with your friends and loved ones. 

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— END —

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Categories
Lifestyle

Why are we escaping to digital devices?

iPads, tablets and all manner of gadgets are ruling our lives on a daily basis

Written and researched by Monica C

There is no doubt that high-tech gadgets and digital devices have made life easier for people in the modern world. It is actually because of this convenience and the seemingly endless list of things that you can do using these devices that it is easy for adults to develop an addiction. It creeps up on them and before they know it, they are already too immersed in their online connection and they have become disconnected with the real world. 

Watch out for these symptoms of addiction to digital devices:

  • Lack of focus, concentration or attention 
  • Memory problem
  • Indecisiveness in decision-making
  • Fertility problem caused by too much exposure to electro-magnetic field (EMF) or radiation of the gadget
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Trouble in communication (expressing thoughts or opinions verbally)

A few years ago, experts identified “digital dementia” as a memory problem caused by the abusive use of gadgets. Digital dementia occurs in human brain cells and chemistry.

The “phone vibration syndrome” was also found to be common among adults. People thought they felt the phones in their pockets vibrating only to find no messages or notifications when they check. 

People are often so engrossed in their smartphones that they do not notice what’s happening around them and would often defend themselves and claim that they are actually multi-tasking.

There are even instances when they do not actually hear what other people are telling them because they are too busy flipping through their Android or iPhone apps.

Rules to Fight Gadget Addiction

Just like any other addiction, this one is not impossible to shake off although many people would find it challenging. The process takes commitment and willpower to pull through. Try these rules to fight your digital device addiction in your day-to-day activities: 

  • Don’t text while you’re driving. Keep this rule not only for your safety but also for the safety of other people who are with you. If you need to text someone, do it before you drive. If someone is in the car with you, let him check your phone and respond to the message for you. 
  • Don’t use your phone while you are waiting in line to order your meal or while you’re getting on a train. Be mindful of the people around you. 
  • Avoid using your phone when you’re already in the bedroom, especially right before bed time as the light affects your ability o fall asleep and sleep well.
  • Don’t use your phone when you are spending time with your loved ones or friends.
  • Leave your phone at home if you don’t need it. If you’re just going for a jog around your village, you don’t have to bring your phone with you. Don’t keep checking your phone when out at a meal with friends or a sports event or similar. Be present of the situation instead of getting lost in a digital world.

Be a responsible adult. If you have kids, set an example for them. If you are able to resist and fight your addiction to high-tech devices, it will be easier for you to implement rules for your kids to help them fight their addiction as well. 

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Helping Children Overcome their Digital Device Addiction

It’s alarming to see the number of children addicted to mobile devices. This dependency greatly impacts the lives of kids in the same the way it affects the adults.

One of the common problems linked to children’s addictions to gadgets is getting poor grades in school. Most kids get easily bored in studying their lessons but they can spend hours in playing with their gadgets.

They can’t focus on their class discussions, they are always looking forward to having breaks or going home so they can finally use their devices again. 

Children are also becoming forgetful. Their increased exposure in the virtual world is believed to be the culprit for their lack of interest to memorize their lessons in school. Why bother memorizing things when you can recall it at the touch of a button?

The problem is that they don’t care about these lapses as much as they do when they forget their phones or tablets. According to studies, children experience anxiety and agitation when they realize that they forgot to bring their devices with them. 

Most kids will throw tantrums when they are prohibited to use their devices, making it harder for parents to control them. Other kids, especially teens, would refuse to follow orders at home if their parents didn’t buy them the latest gadgets. 

The social abilities of children can also be hampered by gadget addiction. Many kids would rather stay at home to play with their devices rather than attend a children’s party. As a result, they may not get along with other kids easily. 

One of the biggest problems that may arise from this addiction is the way kids believe in the characters that they encounter while playing their mobile games. Some games that include fighting can make a kid feel it’s normal and it’s okay to be brutal to his friends.

Playing Grand Theft Auto or Assassin’s Creed could unduly influence a child’s thinking and normalize dangerous behavior, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. Many use it as an escape mechanism but it could become more sinister when accessed by younger, more impressionable individuals.

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GTA: harmless or harmful?

Ways to Fight and Prevent Gadget Addiction 

Parents as well as caregivers should be responsible for implementing strict rules to the kids. They need to set up clear guidelines about using their devices so that the children will fully understand what can happen if they break the rules. 

Here are some rules that you may apply to your kids:

  • Don’t expose really young children to digital devices. There are other items or activities that can be used to keep young children preoccupied.  
  • If you must allow them to use digital devices, impose a limit to their gadget use. It is important to be firm and consistent when doing this. Yet, you should not make it seem like you are depriving them of something. A better approach would be to have other activities programmed in their daily schedules. Say that gadget time is over and it’s time to see Mr Sun for some outdoor fun. You can also apply this to other electronics like your television and their electronic toys. 
  • Set a schedule when your children are allowed to use their devices at home. It could be after dinner or after doing their homework. Set a time that is suitable for them. 
  • Don’t place the television or computer in your children’s bedroom. 
  • Observe a tech-free time at home when everyone in the house, including adults, is not allowed to use any gadget.
  • Monitor your children’s access to the device by sitting by their side while they are playing. This is a perfect opportunity to talk and have fun together as you watch them play their favorite game.
  • Avoid using any mobile device in front of your kid, unless it’s for emergency. If you have to use your phone or laptop for work-related purposes, do it when your children are not home or when they are already asleep. 
  • Teach your children the importance of using gadgets in moderation. 
  • Provide other means of entertainment such as books or a backyard pool. 

Kids are competitive. They would do anything just to get what they want. You can take advantage of this by making the use of gadget as a reward for their good deeds.

For example, they can only use their device after they finish their homework or household chores. This could help them develop self-discipline and willpower to overcome their gadget addiction.

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Don’t forget to praise your kids for their efforts in following your rules. By doing so, your kids will feel that they did something good and they will be inspired to do it again next time. 

A female app developer, who is a mother, admitted that she is also struggling to keep her children from getting addicted to smartphones or tablets.

Monica

For this reason, she works hard, along with other developers, to create Android apps that are educational. They also find ways to create more games that are academic but fun at the same time. 

— END —

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