M, a teenager we currently foster often tells me how awful it must have been to live in the Olden Days, when times were hard and life was so basic. By Olden Days, M means anything pre 1995 before everyone had the internet! She regularly informs me that life would have been meaningless for her had she been born in the last century and how had I possibly coped before there were laptops, smartphones, internet and the greatest invention of all time: Facebook.
Being permanently attached to her smartphone has actually proved useful in encouraging her to improve her grades with a bribe of an update, unlimited text messages and data. However, if I actually want to speak to her, the phone suddenly becomes an instrument of torture and she didn’t see any message or hear it ring. All this said with a straight face and large innocent eyes…
An ongoing debate in our house is doing something without a screen. I try to encourage M to do ‘anything’ other than play on her PlayStation, laptop or smartphone and my suggestions of going outside (Shock and horror!), going to the cinema, meeting friends, playing a sport are met with dramatic eye rolling and usually accompanied by a big sigh which translates to; it’s not like the old days when you actually HAD to do something as there was nothing else to do. I can hear my mother come out of my mouth when I say ‘when I was young, we didn’t have the internet and we played outside with our friends’ or ‘you’ll get a headache being on the laptop so long’. We limit M’s screen time but it is always met with opposition and resentment and that I just don’t understand.
We tried something different last month and suggested a drive. Not to go somewhere specific but just to drive and see where we ended up. I thought M would immediately decline but because I feigned disinterest and could take it or leave it, she decided to take the bait. I let her sit in the front and we drove to London. We live in the outskirts of the city so it was only a 45 minute drive in and M started chatting about her boyfriend and the dramas at school as soon as we left our driveway. I found out that her favourite Youtuber was having a book signing and that she simply must have tickets and that Abby had broken up with Duncan. I don’t know who Abby or Duncan are but there’s always the journey home.
As we passed familiar sites and the London skyline came closer, M took more interest. We crawled past Big Ben which got an impressive ‘it’s ok’ from her but it was the big shopping streets of the West End that enthralled and impressed. As the designer names passed our windows, she would ‘Ooooo’ and ‘Ahhhh’ pointing out Fendi or Prada in a hushed reverent tone. The drive was a huge success, we talked all the way there and back, I learnt more in that four hour drive about M and her life at school than I had all month.
This weekend when I was being told how awful I am because her screen time was up, I explained there are other ways of entertaining yourself and challenged M to read a book – cue eye rolling and teeth sucking or tell me a story. She stopped and looked at me and I latched quickly to the tiny window of intrigue. ‘You go first’ she said, so I told her a story of a man long, long ago who had once lived happily with his family high on a hill until an evil man had come along and tried to hurt his family and they had to run away to stay alive. I knew I had her attention when the ping of a text message went unnoticed and I became animated and drew her in. I told M about how this brave man had fought monsters and demons and hid his family in caves until they could flee the far away land they lived in. I made up quests, triumphs and disasters, long journeys full of peril and bravery shown in the face of terror until finally our hero defeats his enemy and his family is safe once again, this time in a new land. M was transfixed by the story wanting to know how the hero had done it what happened to his family in the end. She had sided with the hero and the war of Good versus Evil had gripped her. During that time, Facebook had been forgotten and YouTube could wait. When it came to M’s turn to tell me a story, she declined but said she would think of one, which I took as a small victory.
Storytelling is an ancient art and is not just used for entertainment. Storytelling can create a bond and recreate history in way that can appeal to everyone. I had retold the story of my Grandfather’s perilous journey across Europe at the start of World War II and how his family and heritage had survived because of his courage and will to survive in the face of danger.
I had found a new way to bond with a teenager and take the trauma out of a screen less hour. There are still some mysteries to unravel and one in particular… I still don’t know who Abby is but I do know that Duncan has perfect teeth!
Check out the Society of Storytelling to find an event near you during National Storytelling Week.