Headphones in the home are the devil's work

She likes them now, sure, but wait till she finds herself yelling "dinner time" into the silent abyss.
She likes them now, sure, but wait till she finds herself yelling "dinner time" into the silent abyss. Photo: Supplied

If you see my name near the top of an article and it's not the byline, I will have been finally arrested for public nuisance after having collected every set of headphones in my home and smashed them to atoms in the street.

In my most exasperated moments, the cost of a brief court appearance and maybe a slap on the wrist (since by some miracle I have no priors for tech abuse) seems a small price.

It's one thing to have to dodge head-down footpath zombies in their ridiculously oversized headphones, it's another to have to call "dinner's ready" so many times and in such an escalating crescendo that the veins on your neck stand out.

You're a bit jaunty on the first call, proud that having dashed home from work tired you made a meal for your children with your own hands when you could be exercising, catching up with a rarely-seen friend, or lying down.

The second call, is a bit, "Oh, well, they must all be doing their thing." She on homework and chatting with friends, he doing uni research to music, the other on some god-awful game (I fought the good fight, but now he is 19: judge me).

By the fifth "dinner's ready" you feel a mix of worthless and furious, especially with Steve Jobs.

The same, depressing, scenario occurs with, "Please can you bring your washing to the laundry?", "Has anyone fed the dogs?" and,  "(Insert child's name here) can you please take the bins out, and make me a cup of instant coffee – not the decaf – darling?" Among others.

Sometimes we are that cartoon family who texts or even calls each other inside the house. (OK I am the main culprit but I refuse to turn on a half-full dishwasher and, at the time, phoning around for room-stashed dishes makes sense.)

Seriously though, I reckon there is a case that headphones in the home are doing the devil's work; disconnecting us from the ones we love most and insulating us from the happy place we're in – and, in my case, prompting fantasies of randomly getting in the car at 8pm on a Tuesday and not returning until 9pm on Wednesday week.


University of Melbourne sociologist, Professor Lyn Craig, confirms that families are playing catchup with more technologies than just the dreaded screens.

"On the positive side, families are incredibly adaptable at having to meet challenges ... but there probably isn't much recognition of how much fast change there is that parents are having to deal with; it's relentless now," she says.

I concur. You can go to however many dozen parent info talks in the school life of your child(ren) and hear however many dozen times how you should be taking all screens and phones out of the young person's room after "X"-pm and putting them on the shed roof, or wherever; but try actually doing it night after night and maintaining harmony, let alone sanity.

The addictiveness of screens, and of habits, frays you. And hearing the good old "all my friends are still online now mum ... don't be that mother" can make you question if you are flogging an extremely ailing horse.

If you feel similarly, Professor Craig assures us we are not alone. "Collectively, everyone's overwhelmed, the outcome of that makes you feel alone as a parent in dealing with it," she says.

"Technology has moved faster than our ability to deal with it in a positive way, and our kids are at the front line because they are early adopters."

Anne Hollonds, director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, says what's at stake is that, with the already packed schedules kids and parents have, we risk losing quality together time altogether.

"My kids are in their 30s but when they were in their early teens the big thing with a lot of their friends was the price of TVs went down, so suddenly kids had TVs in their bedrooms and each kid had their own.

"[The detachment caused by headphones] is a similar thing to that."

She suggests parents lay down rules about tech use, and model them. But she understands this can be a challenge.

"In the hurly-burly pressure of everyday life, you don't want to pick a fight when you get home when you're stressed anyway [author's note: YES, ANNE I AM HEARING YOU!]. You've got to set this up ahead of time, agree [on when devices can be used, guilt-free] and stick to it."

On the upside, while kids of whatever age are likely to rail against and complain about limits imposed on their right to vanish into thin air – while still expecting sustenance and clean clothes – they will thank you for imposing that discipline later.

Whether mine thank me for that day when I finally lose it, rip every plug out of every ear, and run to the street with headphones in one hand and a good heavy garden spade in the other remains to be seen.