I recently blogged about our kids and screen time. At the time I was wavering. It seemed like nothing we could do would help find a balance for our kids and their phones/iPods. Their phones had become a tiny gaming system, ironically unable to function as needed, for communication. Except our daughter’s. She used hers for texting parents, largely. Shortly after I wrote the blog, I realized that I was really just afraid to pull the plug, wavering about how it would affect them, and perhaps our relationship with them. Mostly wavering over having to be the bad guy, while knowing that all my wavering was making boundaries easy for them to cross. Screen time seems like a slippery slope of use. It’s hard for most adults to regulate their time (me included!) online. How do we expect our kids to regulate their time wisely? And why is consistency and rule enforcement so hard? Because, really, who wants to be the constant enforcer? Don’t we do that with everything else already?
So, we bit the bullet after one last time of fighting with the boys, and took them away for good, or, until they reached an age where they could handle the responsibility. I expected more tantrums and tears than we got…We got some, but nothing terrible. We expected an outcry about letting our daughter continue to use hers responsibly even though she’s younger, but they didn’t really notice.
It’s been well over a month, close to two, and my only regret was not taking them away sooner. Our #2 kiddo, who originally would rather toss a ball outside than play games (but had been gradually lulled into chronic passive entertainment via Youtube), instantly turned to reading. He went from a casual reader to a voracious one. He reads a book every few days.
Kiddo #1 also turned around and started hanging out with his friends more. They don’t sit in our kitchen anymore and wait for him to finish looking up whatever he’s looking up. They go run around. Do they go to other boys’ homes and get plugged back in? Perhaps. But at least it’s cut back here. He’s a bit easier to wake up in the mornings. We can’t completely avoid screentime, however, and the dance is continually ongoing. He recently saved up enough money for a laptop, which we allowed him to buy with contingencies. It wasn’t long before we realized that the contingencies weren’t being followed, and still need to come up with a plan that we can stick to. I realize that the problem is more with our enforcement than anything else, but coming up with a simple way is tricky.
Then there’s the 6 year old, (how he ended up with an iPod in the first place is beyond me), and while we no longer receive sweet but random “I love you mom,” texts from bed way past bedtime, he’s not really been glued to any screen whatsoever since then. Not that we were too worried, he likes his outdoors time. And we need not worry about him double passively entertaining the 4 year old (you know, the experience of when one kid actually gets entertained by watching another kid play on the screen).
We recently took the 2 oldest boys and our 12 year old niece on a Spring Break backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon. While it was obvious that no phones were allowed on the backpacking trip, I hesitated about allowing them on the long, 13-15 hour drive to and from. On one hand, it’s such an easy solution: less whining, less fighting, less boredom. Let’s face it: Electronics may cause eventual behavioral problems, but they are a quick fix in the here and now, in which most of us parents need to operate to stay sane.
We made the executive decision that while playing the heroes and allowing them the indulgence of temporary phone/game privileges while we were en route would have ensured a quiet ride for us, we ended up not letting them. Brave, considering we were 5 people in a 5 passenger Suburu. For 15 hour drive each way.
How’d it go? There was fighting and bickering. There was “let’s impress our girl cousin with our harassment techniques.” There was “she’s impressed when we hurl insults at each other” so let’s do it a lot. There was a bit of complaining of the length of the car ride. But there was also much more. There was group podcast listening. There were questions for moms about people dying each year in the Grand Canyon. Lots and lots of death questions. How can you die there? How many people die each year? How wide IS this trail you’re taking us on? Give me a percentage of deaths to visitors? Like more than 10%? We all know ONE of us will die here. It won’t be me. But who? I’m going to have to protect you all. How tall IS grandpa? What kind of animals are most likely to attack us there? Why are you making us hike in the day when they just told us to hike in the mornings? We were beginning to wonder why they had such little confidence in our ability to plan a relatively safe vacation for them.
There was lots of other conversation. There was lots of asking the moms about good stories. Childhood stories. There was talk about financial investment plans and motivation. There was verbal, loud groans when they’d see a good brown National Parks sign along the highway, after hoping in vain the moms didn’t notice and want to take a “quick” detour.
It was more work, certainly. But definitely worth the times of bickering and lines being drawn in the back seat. It’s a parent’s hope and dream that perhaps, someday, they’ll not only carry some fond memory of backpacking in the Grand Canyon, but a memory of the conversations that took place along the way. They may never get that those could only have happened without the distractions of phones. Or, maybe they will get it perfectly.
Back from our trip, screen time is still limited. Occasionally they’ll ask to play something, and occasionally they can jump through enough hoops to get an hour or so a week. But with the weather finally turning nice on occasion, I think they’ll turn their energy outside and return to what childhood is supposed to be about.
Are we perfect with this? Heck, no. Do we go back and forth on what we allow? Yes. But that’s what parenting is, really. An art form, where you are constantly readjusting, re-planning, going back to the drawing board over and over until it fits right. And then it will change in an instant and so will how you need to deal with it.