A year and a half ago, we bought each of the kids an itouch for Christmas.
WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?!
For Gareth, he'd reached the age (14 at the time) where it gets hard to buy gifts. He needed a new ipod, so why not buy the newest one? Technology has a sort of inevitability about it, doesn't it? At some point, you feel like you have to upgrade. Disappointingly, we fell into that trap.
As for Olivia - well, I knew she was too young for such a "toy" (11 at the time), but it was a sympathy buy. She had some things going on in her life that made her days extra difficult. Among those things: food allergies and sensitivities meant she couldn't eat most of what other kids ate. Her days were filled with denial: No, you can't have that donut for swim team donut Friday. Sorry, can't have a cupcake at lunch, even if it is your best friend's birthday. No sandwiches, no pizza, no mac & cheese, no ice cream or candy. The list goes on.
For once, I wanted to say YES!
So I did. I said "Yes! You can have that itouch that you NEVER thought I would buy for you! Aren't I the best mom ever!?!?
The giving part of parenting is so easy: the faces that light up, the leaps for joy, the thank you!thank yous! That's why this job is so hard, right?--it's usually much better for them if you have the guts to say, "no."
It all seems like common knowledge now, but at the time, I really had no idea what we were buying. (Really, you have to watch the latest gadgets like they're pine nuts under the broiler. Blink and you find yourself with a disaster.).
I regretted my decision immediately, when on Christmas day, I heard Olivia asking Gareth to help her get started texting.
Texting!? I thought it was just an ipod with games!?
It got worse a few days later when we drove to Florida for a soccer tournament. We'd borrowed The Hobbit on CD to help us pass the time together, but the dynamics of that changed when the team's goalie needed a last-minute ride. Lengthy dwarven folk songs, sung in the narrator's sonorous baritone (and my harmony), didn't strike the same mood of secret family absurdity with a high school aged friend in the car.
When, on top of that, Olivia decided Tolkien had solidified her distaste for works of fantasy, we gave up on The Hobbit.
Which opened the door for those two boys to sit in the back seat, hooked up to their respective devices, in complete silence for the entire trip. I could have interrupted them and forced them to unplug, but I have to admit, I was fascinated. How long would it last? Surely they would get bored!? No. They played games or listened to music all the way to Florida.
Since then, the list of things I don't like about the itouch has only grown.
I used to think that, compared to my mother's parenting years, I had it hard managing screen time for my young children. Things have changed so much just since my kids were little, however, I've changed my tune. In those archaic days, our biggest concern was 24-hour cable TV. To my chagrin, you could get Barney or Teletubbies at any ungodly hour. To combat that, I limited "screens" to 1 hour a day. In retrospect, we stuck to that easily. When various gaming devices came into play, time for those counted toward the same hour of screen time. Even so, it was a long time before that happened. I didn't buy Gareth a Gameboy until he was in 2nd grade, and I still considered that an outrageously young age to introduce such technology. Now, with baby/toddler apps and smart phones so commonplace, I wonder if it's not a rarity for a child to live seven whole years without engaging with an interactive computer device.
While limiting time, we also limited space with ease, insisting on no TVs in the bedrooms and having just one computer in a public place for all to share. How lucky that those bulky appliances couldn't come in the car with us, or on a camping trip, or to grandma's house!
I changed all that ease of parenting when I gave my kids an itouch. Sure, they can listen to music (the original reason for buying this regrettable piece of technology). But they can also play video games, message, engage in social media like Facebook and Instagram, download and watch movies, or watch shorter video on YouTube or Hulu, all while they're sitting on the toilet if they want to. (I would institute a no itouch in the bathroom rule, but quite frankly, I just might be hoping they would drop the wretched things in the toilet by accident. That would solve all my problems, wouldn't it!? (Way to go me--great parenting advice here!).
I try not to be resistant to new technology. I can see many benefits, but I also see little moderation. Gaming, texting and other social media can be addicting, even for adults (thinking of my own twitter haze). Many kids don't have the discipline to engage with balance, which gives us parents one more thing to police--and that at an age when we're trying to impart the twin pillars of responsibility and freedom.
I tried to give my kids autonomy, but instead, I'm realizing they've gradually lost their ability to enjoy downtime without technological assistance. How is that possible after all the effort I put in during their elementary years!?
Disney used to have a public service add that asked kids to go outside and play for "one hour" a day. Our family used to laugh at how turned around that was. How about the opposite, we'd say: "let's go outside and play all day, and only come in for "one hour" of screens!" They'd melt my unconventional mother's heart by saying "stupid Disney" under their breath while chuckling and shaking their heads.
Now, I would love to get my teens one full undirected hour every day. I would love for them to feel real boredom. I remember driving for hours in the car with my family with nothing to do but stare out the window...bored to tears. But boredom is just another word for the space needed for self-reflection and creativity. Boredom prompts us to come up with new (and very individual) ideas about how/what to play, how/what to be, and how/what to think. Our true selves sit quietly, waiting to be discovered, in boredom.
The portability of this technology really blindsided me, but even though Gareth is on the verge of sixteen, I'm not giving up on boredom. I need to regroup and figure out how to expose my kids to technology and quiet, new apps and their own new ideas, shares/likes/friends and solitude.
I have some thoughts on how to get started (including digging out the old ipods so we can detach music from screens), but I'd love to hear how others manage these insidious little boxes of distraction. And don't tell me if your kids don't have one--I'll just melt into a pathetic green puddle of envy!