The other night, I had an experience I’ll not soon forget. As I walked up the front sidewalk in the warm Atlanta twilight after a long day at work, I saw something that made my heart soars. My two older sons were in the front yard playing lacrosse — pushing and shoving each other in a battle for the small white ball, laughing as they did.
Read more: Why I put my kids through iPad Rehab
I was reminded of my younger days when kids would play outside until the summer sun finally disappeared. And I wondered whether this magic moment I was witnessing would have happened without iPad Rehab.
Earlier this month, I realized I was losing my kids to their iPad addiction. The fixation on watching their choice of video whenever/wherever was degrading their childhood experience, causing them to isolate socially, limiting their creative playtime, and testing our parenting skills.
Why I put my kids through iPad Rehab
So, one Monday morning, I took away the iPads. Cold turkey. The first week or so of the program was brutal. My three oldest boys complained, begged, wheedled, cajoled and negotiated in a frantic bid to get their iPads back. You know, like addicts desperate for a fix.
But in recent days, things have calmed considerably. I think we parents tend to forget that kids are generally adaptable and flexible. Two weeks into rehab, my guys seem to have accepted that the iPads aren’t coming back anytime soon. They still occasionally ask when the ban will be lifted, and try to understand why I took them away. But they have largely moved on.
That process was helped by their continued access to the internet via our kitchen computer, and their ability to play video games on the home console. I’m not opposed to all video entertainment. It’s the anti-social aspect of portable digital devices that really bugs me.
We allow my three eldest a combined 30 minutes per day on the family computer. That requires them to horse trade over allocation of the time. The resulting squabbles are music to my ears (If not to my wife’s) because it means my guys are learning the art of the deal.
We work really hard to monitor and enforce that 30-minute limit. Any serious or repeated breakdown in that rule will cost us a lot of credibility. A buddy of mine says he and his wife actually succeeded in weaning their kids off all screens Monday through Friday using a cold turkey technique similar to mine. But then they got lazy and allowed occasional weekday screen time as a reward or treat. The result was a return to the relentless whining and begging for screens. Their ban fell apart and they are right back where they started.
I have a colleague who is also battling a screen addiction in his family. His kids are so hooked that they’ve learned to prepare for his efforts to unplug them. He recently asked why they weren’t outside on such a pretty day, and without looking up they responded, “There’s a 20% chance of rain.” Kids will never willingly give up a digital device.
A great dog trainer once told me that the most important part of obedience training isn’t what you teach the dog, it’s what you teach the owner. We parents are responsible for protecting, guiding and shaping our kids in every way. It’s ultimately on us to make sure our kids have a healthy relationship with digital media. A firm stand, consistently enforced, is helping free my kids from their iPad addiction.
Lacrosse is a rough game. As my boys squared-off in the front yard that evening, there was shoving, jabbing, slapping, scrapes and spills. Still, as I watched, I thought, this is so much healthier than staring into a blue screen as the sun fades away.
I smiled and walked inside.