It’s Friday afternoon. I know the question is coming. I dread that it’s coming. Who will ask first? My daughter? My older son? Younger? Who’s it going to be first? By now, you must know the question:
“Can we play ipads?”
This question has plagued me for over 2 years now. At first it was simple. Finish your weekly school work, do your chores, and you will be rewarded with time on your device on Friday afternoon. Then somewhere along the way, those pesky devices squeezed their way into Saturday afternoons. Then, I got pregnant and some-one-please-give-me-sleep and…fine. You can play Sunday afternoon too, while I sleep. Just being honest here…the hour turned into 2 or 3 at times. Many times.
I agonize over this. I pray over this. I ask my husband through tear-filled eyes if the kids are going to grow up to be jerks because they want to play on devices all the time. This is a sticking point in our house.
Now here’s the part where the person writing the essay gives you wonderful bits of wisdom on how to proceed. Maybe they recommend open-ended toys that are great for encouraging imaginative play. Or maybe they talk about the spiritual ramifications for too much screen time. They give step by step instructions entitled “Navigating Screentime for Children: A Primer” or “You, Too, Can Raise Modern Kids Without Help From Screens” or “Jerk-Proofing Your iPad Addicted Tween.” Well, guess what? I am right smack in the middle of this thing. I can’t put a neat bow on this. I can barely even throw out a life preserver. I can, however, walk together with this community and start a conversation about navigating these waters as parents.
Here are some of the points that are getting me through the weekends without a stomach ache caused by the kids spending too much time on those glowing rectangles:
- Screens are a privilege not a right. My children ARE NOT entitled to use a screen a certain amount of time per week. They have these things called imaginations and they have these friends called siblings and they have this place called a playroom. All are available most of the time for their use.
- iPads are reserved for weekends. They have tried many times to ask on Monday or Thursday. They are denied.
- “You do you” is an idiom I’ve been hearing lately and I feel it applies here. Our family is unique, your family is unique. We won’t do it the way so-and-so will do it. This means that my kids may have their devices more and/or less than other families. This is ok. This doesn’t mean that judgement from me or anyone else is ok. It means we all have different thresholds for this topic and we’re all learning.
- I am the Chief Operating Officer of my home. One of the tools I use to do my job is my phone. I use it. A lot. I do grocery shopping (thank you, Instacart) and Target-type shopping (thank you, Amazon) on my phone because I haven’t quite mastered taking 4 kids to a store to do shopping. I text to set up play dates. I text to arrange for child care. I do all of these things on my phone because I am a grown up and I’m allowed. When I pull out my phone, I do not have to cater to my kids’ requests to see a video or take a picture or do a few snapchat pictures. It’s my phone, I’m the grown-up and I’m running the house. Being on my phone doesn’t mean I’m neglecting my children. Can it go there? Of course it can. I really try hard not to let my phone take away from meaningful interactions with my kids.
- I try to stay away from social media in the presence of my kids. If I am doing homeschool lessons with them, hanging out with them, trying to listen to their questions, making their food, or hearing about their day, I stay off social media. For me, social media is entertainment and I can do that when the kids are occupied with something else (sleeping, quiet time, or when they are out of the house). This isn’t easy (nursing mama on the couch anyone???), but it’s the standard I try to hold to. This also goes for leisurely texting with friends. I generally keep my phone on do-not-disturb until 12pm which is when we are finished with school.
- There are no screens allowed in my kids’ bedrooms. Shenanigans happen behind closed doors and that’s never good when behind those closed doors you can access the good ‘ole, wide-open Internet. I trust my 9 year old to shower and get dressed by herself. I trust my 6 year old to put his laundry away. I trust my 5 year old to get a granola bar from the pantry. I cannot trust any of my children to navigate the World Wide Web by themselves with any guarantees they will not find trouble. They aren’t old enough and are only barely becoming equipped. Imagine leaving your child in their room alone with a bowl of marshmallows with instructions to not eat all of them. I certainly know what my kids would do!
- I cannot tell you the number of times I have felt powerless about screens. This powerlessness makes me afraid! I don’t like being powerless, but fear-based reasons for any type of parenting decision will not make the parenting muscle work. It will only make the muscle tense, strain, and paralyze. The more I am afraid of screens in my home, the more tension increases between me and my children concerning said screens. Navigating with a sense that I am the grown up in the situation, that I have more wisdom than the kids about such matters, that I am empowered to give and take away screens as I see fit are all ways to strengthen that parenting muscle and use it wisely. We are empowered, mamas! FIST BUMP.
- Take out playdough. Grab a stack of fun books and start reading them. Draw a bath. Take the memory game off the shelf and bring it to the table. Make a paper airplane. Start baking cookies. These are my go-tos to get out of the trench of “what can we do?” Without fail, these turn into wonderful opportunities where I can connect with my kids and not have to resort to screen time. My list is actually longer than that, but we rarely get further than cookies before we are having a great time together!
- There are times when iPads were/are extremely helpful. For instance, if you ask my kids about the day their little sister was born last July (a homebirth), at least 2 out of 3 will say that was the day they played iPads the whole day. It was very necessary and I am very grateful that they did. It seems that TVs, ipads, and any other device were expressly invented for the first months of my pregnancy with kids 2, 3, and 4. I am so happy we had them during these times. At around 3 months post-partum, new mom boot camp kicked in and we got back on track with screen time limits. It was ok. It was just a season.
- I am in constant touch with what is being installed on their iPads and reserve the right to delete at will, even if they “have a lot of points” or are “on the best level.” If it’s not in line with our family values, the game’s gotta go.
Ok, mamas. Your turn. I’d love to open up this conversation and hear your thoughts about screen time. Where are you in this process? What have you landed on as the ground rules for your family? We’d love to have you over on the Kindred Mom Facebook Group to continue discussing!