My family is being undermined by an addiction, and I’ve decided to do something about it. Starting now.
Drugs? Alcohol? Gambling?
My kids are addicted to video devices, specifically their iPad Minis. Excessive use of these technological marvels is degrading my kids’ experience of childhood, diminishing my parenting skills, and causing turmoil within my family.
The reality of kids’ screen addiction
And we’re not alone. If you’re not grappling with “screen addiction” in your home, you are either an amazing parent, or (more likely) you don’t have kids. I’ve had conversations about this problem in the office break room, with clients, at swim meets and on the golf course. It’s a regular topic in the media, too, generating a steady stream of articles and blowing up the phones on talk radio.
There are countless strategies for dealing with screen addition, probably as many as there are frustrated parents. I chose cold turkey for my kids. On a recent Monday morning, I gathered up the “crack pads” and slipped them into my briefcase. They are now sitting on my office desk, where they will remain until my wife and I can re-set our family’s relationship with mobile digital technology.
I call this “iPad Rehab” and plan to share our progress with you as the journey unfolds in the coming days and weeks. My hope is that we will all learn something about how to combat this very real problem.
But before we get into that, let’s talk about the dangers of unbridled use of video devices. At bottom, screen time is a thief. It steals time and attention from other important activities, including family interactions and other interpersonal relationships.
Did you know kids under 2-years-old should have NO screen time, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics? A baby’s rapidly growing brain needs tons of physical play and human interaction to properly develop. Older kids should be limited to 2 hours per day (!) of video use. That limit allows time for more important activities, including sports, outdoor play, reading, imaginative free play and hobbies.
When video use gets out of balance and eats into time for such activities, schoolwork can suffer, sleep becomes difficult, and obesity is more of a threat. Fortunately, we haven’t hit that point yet with our kids.
Why I’m putting my kids through iPad rehab
What bugs me the most, and drove me to launch iPad Rehab, is the social isolation that occurs when kids consume video on a personal video device. On the Sunday before I took away the iPads, I watched with dismay and sadness as three of my boys sat in close proximity, each absorbed in his own iPad game or video. They hardly spoke a word to each other or to the rest of the family. The iPads are undermining our family communal experiences, like watching a movie together, even if that particularly film isn’t the first choice of every kid.
Similarly, because everybody can get exactly the media they want, my kids miss out on the valuable experience of negotiating with siblings, as I did with my brothers: “OK, fine. We’ll watch your stupid show at 8, but then I get to switch to the game at 9.”
Again, I’m not alone in this concern. In a 2015 New York Times article about screen addiction, a grandfather lamented that his grandkids no longer talk to him on car rides because their heads are buried in phones or tablets. The experts expressed displeasure with that situation as well, noting that in-car conversations with a parent are an important way for kids to process their experiences, problems and fears with a caring adult.
Of course, we parents are ultimately responsible for the screen addiction crisis. We too often use the iPad as a babysitter, just as our parents used TV to keep us quiet when they needed some adult time. And we give up too easily when our kids refuse to surrender the device after the agreed-upon 30 or 60 minutes. Who can blame us, right? We all work hard. Who needs a screaming fight with a 10-year-old at 7:30 p.m.? Just let him keep playing…
What’s more, a lot of us are also addicted to our devices, typically our phones. It’s hard to lecture a kid about losing himself in his iPad when he can smirk and accurately respond, “What’s the big deal? You’re always on your phone.”
But if we’re going to help our kids, we need to show that we can do hard things. We need be firm with the guidelines we set, even when the kids protest –long and loud.
And we need to engage with them rather then tossing them the iPad at times when we’d rather be relaxing or catching up on work email. Most importantly, both parents have to be on the same page and stand shoulder-to-shoulder in enforcing whatever limits they agree on.
I’ve learned a lot about all those hard things in the first couple of days of iPad Rehab. We’ve had some promising experiences and some miscues, including a reminder that “If the momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”