I’ve been thinking a lot about screen time lately, it had been playing on my mind for a while, then a few weeks ago I was asked if I wanted to review a mobile phone for the kids. After lots of deliberation we agreed and you can read my review here.
This is probably a good time to lay my cards on the table isn’t it? Because most people know that I’m a bit of a gadget geek. I’m reknowned for having my phone glued to my hand, my iPad within swiping distance, and my e-reader always in my bag. The list is endless, so it will probably surprise you when I say that the fact that my son has his own iPad makes me feel stick in the stomach. But it really, really does.
We bought The Beast (currently 5-years-old) an iPad mini for Christmas, and nearly eight months later it still doesn’t sit quite right. I know, if I’m that bothered why did we do it? That’s what you’re thinking isn’t it?
The answer is really quite simple. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not happy with a lot of things to do with my children. Aside from the tantrums, or the fact that they’re never ever clean, I’ve come to terms with the fact that there are some things I can’t control.
For example, I’m not particularly happy that my three-year-old-son has perfected the perfect ‘dying’ scene when playing Power Rangers. I’m not particularly happy with The Beast playing with any sort of guns or swords, but at the end of the day, even when I tried not to buy them, he made them out of Lego and bits of paper and card.
I also think we need to face facts, and come to terms with the fact that we’re part of a different generation. He’s been using iPads at school since before I even owned one. At the end of his second week in reception he came out of the classroom and said “Mummy I NEED an iPad.” Alarm bells ringing we held off, pacifying him with a 2nd Generation iPod touch from Ebay.
A year later, and the school opened up their scheme where you could buy an iPad through them to the Year 1’s. After a discussion we decided against going with the scheme from both a cost and a practicality issue it just wasn’t right. We’ve never been ones for paying inflated monthly costs.
As Christmas approached it was at the top of his list. Well, in fact, he hardly had a list at all. I started to cave. I know I’m weak, but at the end of the day as much as I try not to spoil my children, I really do want to give them the world. Then, after Mr Aimee tripped over a little storage shelf containing boxes of “useless crap that never gets played with” (that’s the professional term btw), discussions quickly went from “No way jose….” To “well…mayybbeee we should reconsider.” In the end we totally gave in. After all, I was sick to the back teeth of never getting on my iPad anyway.
We briefly talked about him getting a Leap-pad, but to be honest, that’s like offering me a Windows 8 PC instead of my iMac. If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right. He would tell the difference, and at least this way he could use it for school.
We talked about rules and regulations, but with his iPod and my iPad we were already very aware of the need for screen time rules because of the open mouthed, catching fly tug of the swipe.
Christmas morning made it worth every penny and painful discussion, and he didn’t mind about his teeny tiny pile of presents compared to his brothers – he understood the value (well to a point).
To begin with it all ran smoothly. It was actually nice to see him stay in one place for more than 30 seconds. Having never been one to sit still and draw/colour/watch TV, it’s been hard to make him switch off, and the minute he stopped napping he was 100-miles-an-hour for thirteen hours a day. The iPad did give him downtime, it gave my ears downtime. His confidence in school grew, and he was soon one of the children who was tasked with going to a regular iPad club and sharing new apps and rules with his class. He also totally kicks the arse out of iMovie, and whilst I have my issues with Minecraft, I can’t argue that he’s actually learning from it. Along with the phonics apps. For a child who showed no interest in anything educational, if there’s an app involved, he’s on it and winning.
Then it all went horribly wrong when we let sleep deprivation get in the way.
You know what it’s like when you’re functioning on very little sleep. Sometimes you will resort to anything to keep you going. Whether it’s during a day where you just need to re-insert your third caffeine drip, or whether it’s first thing in the morning, and you’ve barely touched four-hours sleep without a wake up. Sometimes, when your three year old comes in to your bedroom at 4:53am for the 12th day in a row “READY TO START THE DAY HAVING FUN” chucking the iPad at him feels like the only way to survive. Sometimes, when it was getting really bad, I may have been known to leave it on the coffee table the night before, set up next to the TV remote control (sky box already set to Nick Jnr) and a little tub of dry shreddies or Cheerios.
YES I KNOW IT’S WRONG BUT I’M TIRED.
It was fine though, for a while. I thought it was a phase, but then The Beast, who always used to sleep in, started waking up early too; asking for the iPad before he’d even had his stupidly long morning wee. That, combined with end-of-school-itis is what caused me, us, to revaluate the situation.
You see, I’ve always been under the firm impression that the iPad is actually better than the TV. It really puts my nose out of joint when people who preach that children shouldn’t play computer games yet are happy enough to let their kids watch back-to-back Disney Channel. At least I can kid myself that computer games require some sort of logical thinking. Plus, whilst I am totally against seeing iPads at the table when you’re out for meals, I don’t mind chucking my phone to them every now and then if the food is taking a while, but there is no question whatsoever that they go away as soon as the food comes. I could probably use crayons and paper, but firstly I really don’t see the difference in them from a social point of view, and secondly, I’m fed up of picking them up and inevitably getting my fingers covered in peas or mushed up fish finger while I’m trying to drink my wine.
But at the end of the day, TV and iPads are both screen time, and they’re both as bad as each other. They suck your child’s attention into another world. Too much screen time does to my children what lack of food and lack of sleep does to them. They glaze over, and I don’t care what you say, in both situations, they become addicted, rude, and illogical.
The thing is, it’s not just kids that are like this are they? I know I’m a bugger, I have actively removed my work email from my phone over the holidays, and I know I’m sucked into the social media side of things, Mr Aimee is often not listening as I bark orders at him because he’s too busy reading his news and F1 feeds on his phone. Oh, don’t get me started on Facetime. Since when did it become ok just to dial in and attempt a video call whenever you fancied it? It’s the equivalent to turning up at somebody’s door on a Sunday morning unannounced!
So what did we do to fix it?
The first thing was a couple of day’s cold turkey. I didn’t need to plan it, after a particularly trying last few weeks of term, I had to ban any iPads, and soon they discovered they quite liked drawing on real paper again, building with real bricks, and playing role play with each other. Since then I have gone back to nothing before breakfast or after dinner. If homework needs to be done, it’s done before the TV goes on, and thirty-minute bursts and when the timer goes off iPads down. I’m pleased to say, they do go down with very little effort – except for if we have to pause a ‘Stampy’s lovely world’ video. It’s nice to see that actually, The Beast especially, is happily thinking of other things to do. Like I said above, not one to sit down and draw, he actually ASKS now. AH-MAZE-ING.
I’ve also reiterated the rule that Mr Aimee and I are both guilty of breaking NO PHONES AT THE TABLE, after all, I’m a firm believer of lead by example, and as much as I hate it, it’s probably for the best that after I’ve instagramed my poached egg, my phone goes away.