She Said It Was Like Quitting Smoking: Device Addiction is Real
I'd like to think I'm a fairly laid-back mom. You know, I'm not crazy about super strict routines, I tend to be quite child-lead in things like feeding, sleep times, etc (within reason, of course). And as a working mom and a new mom again after 10 years, I pick and choose my battles carefully.
So, when my older child got an iPad for her birthday from her grandad a few years ago, I didn't think much of it. What was she going to do? She wasn't on social media. She wasn't allowed to text any friends (and she was too young to be able to, anyway). She only watched the odd YouTube video or Netflix show while we traveled.
Well, over the last few years, YouTube has basically exploded into a never-ending stream of wannabe influencers and kids who seem to have a never-ending supply of money to be able to buy things to unbox and take trips to places on the regular, along with families who don't appear to have day jobs and just run around doing fun stuff all day.
And my daughter's the hour or two a week on YouTube suddenly became an hour or two a day. I'll admit it. Freely. I mean, c'mon. When you arrive home exhausted after a long day at work and the kiddo can entertain herself, it's a nice break. And when you have a new baby taking up 99% of your time, it's a great way to help avoid the sibling jealousy, which inevitably occurs when you can't give your first kid the attention that you desperately want to give, but are too exhausted and overwhelmed to give.
Did I use the iPad as a band-aid? Absolutely. I'm certain most parents do. So, I'm not here to judge, and I don't care for your judgment either. You gotta do whatever it takes to survive.
It's a double-edged sword
But recently, I had begun noticing that her attention span was diminishing. Her temper was shorter. She was more absentminded. When she was watching her iPad, it didn't matter if there was a hurricane going on, it took longer than it should have to get her attention. Her sleep was becoming affected. And so was her ability to concentrate at school.
I should have known. It's not like the research doesn't exist to some extent. It's not like it isn't common sense to make the connection (and hindsight is a wonderful thing). But the reality is, I just didn't think it was as bad as it was until...
Suddenly, it was bad
One day, out of the blue while on the school run, she complained to me that we were a boring family. She was unhappy because we never did anything fun. When I pressed, she said it was because we never went on exotic trips or to fun places "every day" like the families she followed on YouTube. In the very next breathe, she talked about how she and her BFFs were going to do a YouTube video of their own, where they went to the mall and bought two full outfits a piece and did a challenge of some kind. Then she asked me for $200.
It was then I realized that we had crossed the line. What line? I dunno, but we had crossed it. I had to do some major damage control.
I know none of what I've written about is surprising. But sometimes, you don't realize the extent of the challenge until you go through it yourself.
Damage control = carnage control
The first step was to institute an iPad ban. This is something I'd threatened from time to time, and she had lost her iPad on occasion for being lippy or sassy. (I'm 99% certain she picked up these behaviors from the kids on YouTube, who are just seriously badly behaved for the most part: sassy, mouthy, sarcastic, rude to their parents. Honestly, it's not the best role modeling). But the iPad removal had only ever lasted for a day or two.
This time she lost it for a whole month. ONE. MONTH.
She lost her mind.
And the first 3 days were AWFUL.
My husband quit smoking a few years back and he proactively stayed sequestered in his room for almost 2 weeks, because he KNEW he would be a nightmare to deal with.
I can honestly tell you that her behavior was nearly identical to his in the days following her ban. Withdrawal symptoms. Moodiness. She was sullen, bored (yay!), and generally just miserable. She expected me to entertain her. She hated being bored. She got angry when someone took control of the TV remote. She cried randomly. Slammed doors. Refused to talk to me. Got angry at everything. She was in full-blown withdrawal.
And then suddenly... she wasn't.
Suddenly, she was finding things to occupy her time with. She started writing again and drawing—both things she used to do regularly. She started tinkering out tunes on the piano. She developed an interest in baking.
She was suddenly my wonderful, curious girl again. It took about 2 weeks, but it happened.
The best part was when I told her that she was a week away from getting her iPad back, you know what she said? "I don't really think I want it back. I'm having fun without it." It was music to my ears.
Falling off the wagon hurts
However, she did get it back once the ban was up because I'm true to my word. I don't like to lie to or manipulate my kids. And she was excited to use it again, let's be real.
But it didn't take long for her demeanor to change again. The glassy eyes, the selective hearing... the inability to take her eyes off the screen when I'm trying to talk to her.
Here's the reality: we are a tech-centered family. We live in a tech-friendly culture. Everyone is connected in some way, shape, or form. So, is it entirely practical for us to completely eliminate technology in our house? No, it isn't. It plays a big role in my business, and in life in general. Her father uses tech in his work. Her uncle is an online business owner. Heck, even her grandad is completely teched out.
I can't ask her to abstain, because I can't model that behavior. And a hypocrite is something I LOATHE being.
It's not a dictatorship... is it?
I'm not policing my daughter's iPad use now. Instead, I'm trying a collaborative approach. Tech is unavoidable, so I'd rather instill in her the ability to make better choices in how she uses her time and her tech, instead of dictating it to her. Obviously, I will step in when I need to, but I'd like the decision to use it to feel like it's one she is capable of making—eventually and with guidance.
That's one of the things I think is important in this debate and isn't always talked about. Oh, there are apps to monitor device usage, and there is the ability to shut it down after a certain period. But the debate centers around "let them use it vs. don't let them use it."
But if tech is such a central part of everyday life, why not instead help our kids learn how to use the tech more responsibly? So, we'll try that approach. I expect some trial and error... and I'm not even 100% sure it's the right way to go. But that's the way we're going.
And that's what we'll try for now. I will keep you posted on how it goes, but I'd love to hear from you how you help manage your tween's device use. What techniques do you use and what tips do you have? I look forward to hearing from you!