I had an idyllic assumption about how working from home was going to be in my household, it was going to include the mandatory baking of banana bread, a chance for me to finally dig out the strange stuff that appears to accumulate under my sofa at an alarming rate, and an opportunity to spend some quality time with my most certainly nearest and most of the time dearest. It turns out that none of this transpired.

The stuff under the sofa has now I think taken on its own personality, our diet consists mainly of toast and crisps and despite four of us living in less than 100 square metres, I find myself rarely seeing anyone at all… where are they (maybe the stuff under the sofa has consumed them)?

It turns out they are all online – constantly.

A recent study “The digital life of children in times of Covid-19”, coordinated by the Joint Research Center of European Commission, which included data specific to Portugal, found that while 57 percent of those surveyed found that their children were using a computer more frequently and 67 percent considered that their young ones had developed more skills. It also showed that more than half consider children to be overusing digital technologies, with an average daily use of seven hours per day.

I know that I spend over seven hours a day on the computer, and this has been the case for years as sadly the romantic notion of a roving reporter heading out with a pen and paper rarely happens in a digital media age. However, these stats made me have a closer look at my own household and the time they are spending hooked up to the internet in whichever shape or form.

Home schooling means that at least half of the working day the children were in class with some of the most patient and long-suffering humans on earth taking up the challenge to teach world weary teenagers who inevitably generally refuse to put on their camera. I take my hat off to every teacher who endured these teenagers day after day and tried their best to create enthusiasm for mathematical equations that my educational ability has not been able to meet since they were about eight years old. I do however question the sadistic time tabling of music at 8.30am involving repetitive recorder practise or the home PE lesson involving jumping jacks at the same time on another day – our neighbours were also possibly cursing these.

After school though is when the real online fun began for the children, who in fairness to them have not been able to see friends or hang out at a bus stop or a bench (or wherever teenagers hang our now) for three long months.
Eldest child is glued to Instagram, on a constant scroll, interspersed with seemingly never-ending instant messages coming through… this seems to keep her entertained for a good few hours until she wants to watch TV in the sitting room.
Youngest child had instead moved into the world of online gaming.

When I was little, my sister and I would play so much Super Mario Bros that I would dream constantly of Princess Peach digging down in a sandpit while deftly avoiding the Shyguys, complete with soundtrack. From memory we were unable to save a game so that just meant playing until we died (for hours and hours) and this successfully entertained us for the entire summer of 1989.

Gaming is a little different now and probably one of the biggest differences is that you don’t have to sit at home with your sister and fight over the controller, now you can play online, in real time with anyone, anywhere in the world.
The idea of my tweenager virtually meeting up with anyone online filled me with horror, so we have set up all the parental controls, accounts and passwords but in reality, from what I have seen, this online world has been an absolute lifeline to a usually massively sociable child who takes far more joy from chatting with her friends while they play than actually playing the games themselves – which is a good job really because compared to a lot of her gaming friends she really is the whipping boy of the group.

Poised in the sitting room, with a head set that would make any call centre worker shudder, the tweenage is soon laughing, chatting and often screaming with glee as she and her group of friends maraud around the Fortnite island, taking down bots, taking out newbs and taking their sweet time to simply play – just like children always have done. So I know it would be great if they were out on their bikes and skateboards, and wouldn’t it be lovely if we were all down at the beach for a swim or up at the club having a game of tennis – but this just isn’t the reality of these children right now and it probably won’t be for a really long time if we have to be brutally honest.

Sitting in a darkened room and staring at a screen was something I would have previously never encouraged but for lots of kids, gaming is so much more than that, it is a link to the outside world and while having friends and connections IRL (in real life) is something I can’t wait for my children to enjoy to the full again, until them I am happy for them to put on their headset and laugh.

Now all I need is for them to keep it down a bit so I can get on with my work.