How Are You Managing Your Screen Time?

Because I love technology and social media, I feel like I have been quite conscious of my screen time. Since more than a year, all notifications are off my phone. I use the app “Focus” to turn off the internet on my phone (it also helps with working with the pomodoro technique). After reading Adriana Huffington’s book on sleep, I also parked my phone – turned off! –  in a different room during the night and am awoken by an old-fashioned alarm clock. All in the name of limiting my screen time and not being dragged down the rabbit-hole of smartphones.

Sadly, I also agree with Jim Kwik who suggest that smartphones make us less smart!

However, all of this seems to not be enough to manage my time in front of a screen. Indeed, Catherine Price who wrote a book about breaking up with your phone, and a New York Times article that sums it up, suggests it took her two years!  When I heard on the news Apple is including such a control mechanism for parents and individuals in their next OS, I thought to myself I NEED THIS NOW and started researching programs for both me and my 7-year-old. This is what I found.

 

FOR ME: Space. Free app, upgrade available USD 1.99 (but actually I am not sure what the upgrade does).

I liked the design and step-by-step idea that “diagnoses” your particular problem (I am a “boredom battler”) as well as the pop-ups and idea of dimming of the screen. It is also free! That is a pretty great feature when comparable apps charge a monthly cost.

 

FOR THE KID: Habyts. Free for 14 days and after that USD 3.29 or 7.99/month depending on services needed. The more expensive upgrade include chores that your kid can do for extra points or minutes.

Further, Habyts was the only app I could find that both allowed me to set daily time allowances, remote turn off her device, as well as included the option of adding tasks or chores for her to earn more time.

 

5 days in

We have tried a for a few days and I appreciate the professional help! In addition, what has helped is the idea to limit and track not just duration of each session, but also the number of times one reaches for one’s phone and unlocks it. However, despite warnings, limits and general awareness-raising, it has not been very impactful so far for me. I have not yet met my goals of 1,5 hours max on the smartphone/day (my average is more like the double!) or less than 30 unlocks during a day. Two nights since I started this phone detox, I have also unfortunately late-night-binged on my iPad (where I did not install the program).

My child shows withdrawal symptoms as well and has been angry and demanding. I had to change the lock codes on all my devices as she “jumped” to mine when her time was up! However, the remote shut-down function makes the process of limiting the time (right now the same 90 minutes a day) easier than earlier and I recognize that it helps for thinking of other things to do that I am also off my phone!

I will follow up again when some more time has passed to tell you how we are doing.

How do you limit screen time in your family?

How can we better educate our children?

Have you ever thought about the difference between being imaginative and being creative? Last week, I went to a book launch where educator Dr. Naomi Adjepong of Alpha Beta Education Centers asked this question. She suggested that imagination exists just in our head, while creativeness is acted out. Her context was Ghanaian education. Are we educating creatives in Ghana?

At the same event, spelling bee champion Eugenia Tachie-Menson spoke on how education can be fun and how reading books for pleasure is a wonderful way of improving both your thinking and vocabulary. (The event was fellow blogger Golda Addo’s book launch for her novel “The Shimmer in the Photo Album”, Golda is in the orange boubou below, next to Tachie-Menson).

I am lucky to send my children to a private school where both teachers and administrators are happy to take up suggestions from parents, however, they tell me that more often than not the parents that approach them demand “more exams, more exercises, and more sitting in the classroom”.

Personally, I would rather see children under the age of 5 or even 10 spend more time outdoors playing than sitting still and quiet in the classroom. The start-up Tinkergarten, sponsored by among others Omidyar Group, is developing outdoor activities to encourage children “tinkering” or playing outdoors. Activities include looking at bugs, making soap bubbles, or building a bird nest for humans! They write on their website:

“Tinkergarten’s curriculum both engages and delights a wide range of kids ages 18 months-8 years old. As a season unfolds, unique themes and challenges build lesson to lesson. These themes and challenges evolve one season to the next as children progress through the program. In each lesson, an engaging scenario unfolds that allows kids to launch and direct their own play. No two kids ever have the same experience, because it’s the process that matters. Adults play a role, too, as they observe, honor and support their child’s independent exploration and playful learning.”

To prepare our children for the future, I believe they have to be able to read and write, count and perhaps also march in rows, but importantly, in addition, they also need practice communication, empathy, solving problems in groups, building things, asking questions,seeing new places, adapting to different environments, failing and dusting themselves off to try again.

Are we educating creatives in Ghana? And if we are not, what will be the consequences?

Photo : Paul Ninson

 

My Children Speak Three Languages: Here Are My Thoughts About It

My brother reads to my children. In Swedish.

In our family, we speak three languages: English is the common language that all of us speak, then I speak Swedish with the kids (which my children’s father can understand some, but cannot speak it), and the children’s father speaks Fanti, an Akan language ( which I only have a basic level of understanding and proficiency) with them. People around us speak either English or Fanti or other dialects of Akan, in school, my daughter is taught in English. We Skype with my Swedish family in Swedish maybe once a week.

Swedish is hence the language my children hear the least of.

My thoughts around teaching them my language are:

  1. It is extremely important to me they speak my mother-tongue. It is the lauguage in which I can express myself best and it is the carrier of my culture. My children speaking Swedish is non-negotiable and I am envisioning them speaking Swedish fluently as adults, on a level high enough it would not immediately be possible to tell they did not always live in Sweden.
  2. If I, their mother, speak Swedish, they will too. I therefore try and speak as much in Swedish with them as I can. Honestly, I constantly disappoint myself and end up speaking English much more than I intend to, but I try to be forgiving, switch to Swedish when I realize I am rattling on in English and say to myself that “tomorrow is a new day…”
  3. To increase my children’s Swedish vocabulary, we read books every day. I try to read to them every night I am home for about 45 minutes (5 nights a week). We have many children’s’ books in Swedish, but I also do direct translations from books in English (and the one in French!). We also converse around pictures in the books.
  4. Mixing languages is ok. The Multilingual Children’s Association agrees and calls it “harmless and temporary”. If my children speak mixing English and Swedish, and they do that quite a bit, I might translate to Swedish in my response to them. For instance,  they might say: “…and kaninen [the rabbit] fall down”,  I can respond “Ja, den ramlade…” [Yes, it fell]. But I don’t want to coerce them into speaking Swedish as I don’t want there to be any ill-feeling towards the language. At times that means I will be speaking Swedish and they will respond in English. Good enough.
  5. We spend at least one month in a Swedish-speaking environment every year. I think it is sometimes good to be emersed in the language and “forced” to speak (but I am not contradicting myself, the force that comes naturally from speaking to someone who prefers Swedish is very different to be made to speak to someone who speaks both languages).
  6. I take help from technology. When my children play iPad games or watch movies, I make sure some of them are in Swedish. It is also a great way of adding the cultural aspect of life in Sweden such as current favorites Barnen i Bullerbyn and Astrid får en lillebror.
  7. I think of next steps. However, I realize my children lack some specific vocabulary, for instance, words for play in Swedish (My child: “Hello, let’s play HIDE AND SEEK”, Swedish child: *blank face*), so I would love to organize playdates for them with Swedish speaking children. I know a few here in Ghana and am aware of a Swedish family moving to our town soon. Likely my Swedish would improve with some more practice as well!

If you have experiences with a multilingual life, I would love to hear your story!

Thanks to Charlie’s comment and Nadja’s facebook post which inspired this post!

This post is part of a series of posts about parenting

Parenting in a New Environment

I am bringing my children up in an environment that is very different from how I grew up. Is that a problem or an added richness to their and my lives? 

Maybe I have to start with what the differences are between my rural Swedish upbringing on the island of Gotland in the 1980ies and my girls’ in the industrial city of Tema, Ghana today:

It is much warmer for once, ok, ok to be more serious, they are exposed to more inequality, malaria mosquitoes, carbohydrates, direct sun, rigid school from an early age, time on iPads, and religion than I was and that I would prefer for them. However, they also have access to more extended family on a regular basis (my parents were mostly on their own) meaning a calm and regular schedule not depending on my workdays or moods, they speak several languages, while I only spoke Swedish until English was introduced in class 4. They eat less processed foods as that is not affordable in Ghana and know from our chicken and rabbit farms how meat gets on the table.

The behavioral culture in Ghana differs from the culture in Sweden in most ways from how to greet someone (a lengthy conversation including nicknames, hand holding, asking of family vs. “hej”) to how to behave as a child (don’t speak until spoken to vs. do what you want, you are a kid!). Generally, while I am still learning how to behave – I imagine it is good to know that contexts matter.

I do not usually worry much about this, mostly because as you can see, I think it evens out pretty much. Every time and place is different. Knowing different cultures is a definite advantage in every way. But as a parent, sometimes, like today, I just long for the 1980ies Swedish playful daycare “dagis”, no pressure, no religion or threat of the cane, meatballs and potatoes with a glass of milk for lunch, stuff I know and understand for my children.

Photo: Selma and Ellen getting a weekend lesson in plucking a hen from their cousin and his girlfriend who live with us.

This post is part of a series of posts about parenting.

My Best Activity with Children: PLAY DOUGH

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Weekend is coming up and what should you do with your kids? Forget about giving your children an electronic device for some peace and quiet, an iPad has nothing on homemade play dough! Play dough is also cheaper than almost any other activity and allows for developing sensory intelligence and creativity!

I make the dough anew maybe once a month and keep in in a plastic bag in-between uses. (You can also dry the play dough art your children create on low heat in the oven, but humidity in Ghana means the dried dough does not stay dry…)

Recipe:

2 parts* flour

1 part table salt

1 part water

a dash of oil (to not make the salt dry out the hands needing the dough, i prefer coconut oil)

food colouring (optional)                                       * cup, decilitre, etc                                             

 

I give my children household items like forks, spoons, cookie cutters, rollers, plastic containers etc. to use to shape the dough. A metal garlic press is the best tool for creating snakes/flowing hair. A knife can cut shapes. A tooth pick makes eyes. My children, just like myself back in the day, can entertain themselves with this recurring “game” for hours.

Enjoy the weekend with your family!

 

This is Surprising About Having Children

I was recently asked: “What about having children was something you did not expect?” It was a good question. I had to think for a bit. Many things were just as expected: The joy of seeing your children run towards you, the tiredness you feel from never ever getting to sleep enough, the 1000s of photos (10,000s?) on my hard drive of every single cute thing they do, feeling conflicted when I leave the house without them, singing my childhood songs with them. But what was a surprise?screenshot-2016-10-07-12-00-00

After wading through my sleep deprived and sluggish mind, I found a recurring surprise in relation to my oldest child, a talkative five year old (I hear they all are talkatives). The frequency of which she thinks and talks about the miracle of her being my child is a surprise. How many times she asks: “was I really in your tummy?” or exclaims “min mamma”, “my mommy” with an emphasis on our bond. I think I had somehow expected that my child would take her being alive, her coming from my tummy, her being our child, as a given as she knows nothing else.

That a kindergarten aged child is able to reflect on the miracle of life, and does so almost every day, was a surprise. And a surprise that amazes and thrills me. I am happy to entertain this rather deep and at the same time basic thought. I reread her favorite books in the genre “Hur jag blev till”, “How I was made”. She often asks for and can listen to the story of her own birth time and time again.

screenshot-2016-10-07-12-05-54Maybe all of this is a reflection of my own fascination with the serendipity of life and the magic that mysteriously brings us our little ones, but then still it blows my mind that my child is in a sense just like me! At the age of five!

This post is listed under the category Parenting and is part of my effort to write more about my children on the blog.

 

My Children on the Blog

So in-between blogging, researching, and teaching, I do have a private life. The main part of that life is my two children. I have mentioned them every now and then here on the blog, like when they were born: Selma in 2011  & Ellen in 2014, and in a post on our racialized lives “You are yellow and I am brown” and in a post on how to carry a baby Ghana style (one of my few videos). 

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However, I would like to write a little more here on the blog about my children, things we do together, and challenges we face as a family. I will do so under the category: Parenting.

While some might feel one should not “expose” children online, I see my online life as a part of my life and it feels strange to “hide” them away from my blog. Also as my children grow and frankly become more fun to hang out with, I think I have more to say about them, their activities, and about life with children more generally. I am mindful of that they are their own people who should get to tell their own story, but until they start their own blogs (oh, what a dizzying thought!), I think I can say quite a bit more without compromising their integrity.

If you have ideas on topics you’d like to read relating to life with children, do leave a comment!

When your child is sick with malaria

The blog posts you had in mind to write is the last thing on your mind. I mean, in tropical Africa on the one hand, it is just another day with play at home, plenty fluids, and ice cream in the afternoon – not so much different from a weekend without play dates. 

On the other hand, it is a time where I deeply connect with parents in this region who feel a hot forehead and it means more than a few days of recuperation at home. I think of families who live much further from a clinic than we do, cannot travel there in the comfort of their own air conditioned car, and do not simply hand over their health insurance to the nursing station before seeing the doctor.

My body aches for the parents who maybe have to go door to door, knocking, to look for the money needed for transport and care of their little one, increasingly weaker by the minute. In Ghana, malaria is endemic and has affected history and continues to shape contemporary life. It kills, and according to WHO Ghana reported more than 2500 malaria deaths in 2014, but it also cast its net wide as more than 1.5 million people were reported ill with malaria over the same time. That means, malaria is seen as nothing more than a bad cold. “Take your meds and rest”.

Now my malaria-ridden kid (or maybe it is not malaria, the test came back negative, but the zealous doctor still wanted to do the treatment) is sleeping here next to me and I feel mostly calm and grateful. When she wakes up, I will give her more paracetamol. I have food in my fridge and money in my bag. I have the doctor’s cell phone number if her condition is not better by tomorrow.

Can you tell I am still worried?

This post is the second in my new series of more personal posts to be posted on Fridays, Personal Fridays. Although, I have to admit today is Saturday. 

My Blogging Year 2014

It has been a sad year in many ways. A year of death, disease and loss for me and many others. I have also worked hard on my four careers – social media, research, teaching and family life!

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Sad moments
The year started on a sad note for me, my blog had gone missing. I learned to do more regular backups.

End of the Word?

Then people died. People that were amazing, successful and well-known or I just knew well. Komla Dumor died in January, Shirley Temple (who had a surprising link to Ghana I found out) in February, in April my favourite author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in August Emmanuel Okyere, in November my dear Godmother who had been sick for some time passed away. In December, I lost fellow obruni blogger Mad in Ghana. Ebola hit some countries in West Africa but affected us all.


Blog scoops
Getting to debate on Twitter with a sitting minister of state was amazing, although I was smashed pretty hard over the head by Hanna Tetteh, Ghana’s minister of Foreign Affairs in a debate about the tourism policy. Another citizen journalism highlight was when I broke the news on the hole in the Accra-Tema motorway on my blog.


Plenty Politics
Current debates in Ghana covered on my blog included if a government university should be allowed to charge a toll to enter its campus, the State of the Nation address, race, women in electoral politics, inflation, the world cup, power problems and corruption. Many times we laughed and cried at the same time at our issues…


I worked hard!
My work was covered on my blog as well. For instance, my writing process and a one month stay at the Nordic Africa institute, teaching social theory at Ashesi University College. I wrote an article about Nigerian political protests and tweeted in English from Almedalen in Sweden. I also attended a conference, seminars and a workshop.


BloggingGhana stuff
We had a fast year! We were mentioned in The Guardian, got our own office or hub, organised BlogCamp and BlogAwards…


Personal
I also branched out into Instagram and Pinterest and had the most active year ever on Twitter.
But most importantly, I became the mother of another girl! 


Thank you for reading my blog in 2014! I will be back in 2015 with much more…


See earlier yearly summaries: 2012, 2011

Extra Toothbrushes in Ghana: AIDS, Orphans and My Daughter’s School Uniform

As I came across the Varje Tugga Gor Skillnad (“every Bite Counts”) campaign for dental health education in Ghana, run by a chewing gum brand in Sweden, my mouth opened with surprise at an image of my daughter’s school SOS Tema as the recipient of education and free tooth brushes!

Children at SOS Nursery School in Tema, Ghana. Photo credit: Extra
Children at SOS Nursery School in Tema, Ghana. Photo credit: Extra
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My daughter on first day of school. Photo credit: Me

I think what just happened was “them” and “us” melted into one. When aid projects are initiated, an important aspect is to create that difference between “us and “them” so that people will see why giving is necessary. Now when I think of that last month, I went to buy just that school uniform for my daughter, of course I find it difficult to see why those kids need a toothbrush!

Where I was expecting to read about dental health, the campaign states further that:

“Drygt en miljon barn i Ghana har förlorat en eller båda föräldrar, 160 000 av dem på grund av aids. Dessa barn är särskilt utsatta för barnarbete och människohandel, något som utgör allvarliga problem i landet. Majoriteten av människohandeln drabbar fattiga barn från landsbygden.”

(“More than one million children in Ghana have lost one of both parents, 160 000 of them due to AIDS. These children are especially vulnerable for child labor and trafficking, something that constitutes serious problems in the country [Ghana]. The majority of the trafficking concerns poor children from the country side.”) (my translation)

I felt tired that orphans and AIDS was what was on campaign makers minds – was this not about toothbrushes? – and felt their numbers were a bit high. Ghana’s population is 25 million and one million are children without one parent? 160 000 due to AIDS? Anyway, its a good opportunity to learn more about HIV/AIDS in Ghana. The Ghana AIDS Commission reports for 2013:

“The National HIV Prevalence in 2013 is 1.3%

An estimated 224,488 Persons made up of 189,931 adults and 34,557 Children (15%) are living with HIV in Ghana. There were 7,812 new infections, 2,407 in Children 0-14years and 5,405 in adults. There were 10,074 AIDS deaths being 2,248 in Children 0-14 years, and 7,826 adults Estimated Children Orphaned by AIDS is 184,168.”

This suggests, despite the horror hidden in these numbers, that Ghana still reports one of the lowest rates of HIV in Africa. The number 160 000 mentioned above is a total number for all years since AIDS was discovered. Currently, many individuals diagnosed with HIV are also on retroviral medication, which means the virus is slowed down and life expectancy goes up again.  (By chance, a famous HIV ambassador in Ghana this week told media she never even had HIV! But that is a different story…)

This campaign has been a very interesting learning opportunity for me: I have meditated on “us” and “them”, learned about the low HIV rate of Ghana, but I am also saddened my new home country has to be portrayed in this sad light, just for a chewing gum/ toothbrush campaign.

What do you think, is it right to highlight the worst to make people donate?

Read also WHO: 10 facts about HIV and this article explaining why a HIV-infected man was acquitted of charges of unprotected sex – he posed no threat to the women he slept with.

Traditional Gift for a new Mother in Ghana

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Some friends came by with a traditional gift for me, the new mother. The gift was very formally introduced as often is the case with traditional stuff here in Ghana.

Sitting down in plastic chairs in front of our house and pretending like we did not know what was coming, although they had called ahead asking if they could come by with a gift, we greeted them with a longish account of what we had been up to and then listened to their story: “we have come to greet the new mother…”

When formal introductions and description of intent was behind us, I was led to their pick-up and informed of that what was there was for me:
– a crate of eggs
– a big bag of charcoal
– several tubers of yam
– a bottle of whisky

I was advised to drink some whisky every morning and ask my father-in-law for the meaning of my gift.

But to me, it was pretty clear that the gift symbolizes living the good life – filled with food, warmth and the occasional bitter medicine to make everything all right again – something we wish for our daughter.