“Not for a while, Kiersten,” I respond, never giving a specific age or timeline. I’m not willing to be held to anything yet! The truth is, I have no idea. And furthermore, I’d be happy for it to be a very, very, very long time. I see no need for her to have one. I think of all the spam emails I get. The junk emails that are quite inappropriate (even in just their subject line). She’s too young to be faced with this. She sees her friends every day at school (or weekly at church), she doesn’t need to email them. And I’d rather her write actual letters to her long-distance friends.
“Well, everyone else has one,” she says.
“Who?” I reply, not quite believing her, so needing some hard facts. She comes up with two names.
Later that same day, as I’m setting the timer for her time to play games on the iPod touch (the iPod that she and Micah share, that they both saved up money together for almost a year!), she asks me, “Why can’t I just play whenever I want? Everyone else gets to play whenever they want.”
I kind of believe her on that one. She just started playing “Words with Friends” with several of her friends. From the moment she gets home from school, the iPod touch starts binging throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening, signaling that someone else has played a word and it is now her turn to play.
“Everyone else…” Twice in one day. Over technology-related activities. This phrase was already fresh on my mind, from the chapter in my mom’s book that I just posted on my blog (click here to read). Thirty years ago it was the TV that my brothers and I were begging to watch because “everyone else” got to watch whenever they wanted (or so it seemed to us).
As my mom reflected on our constant begging for more TV, she mounted her soapbox (her words) about the evils of TV (balancing it out later, by clarifying that TV is inherently neither good or bad). At the bottom of it all was her frustration about the constant begging of us kids, which put her, the mother, in a position of defense. Not a fun place to be as a parent. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to not even have this item in the home that causes so much desire for little kids and so much struggle for parents to manage?
That’s where I find myself so many times as a mother. As I experience Kiersten’s desire for email and more iPod time, and have the often daily struggle of telling my children, “No, you may not watch more TV. No, you cannot keep playing the iPod, your time is up. I’m sorry that you’re in the middle of a game. No, no more Wii for today. You’ve played plenty. I’d like you to find something else to do,” I find myself wishing these items didn’t exist! Wouldn’t life be so much easier without them? I, too, want to mount my soapbox and defend my stance for putting limits on these things. I even want to take it a step further and say I wish these things had never been created. I hate monitoring them and dealing with the constant requests. Even though my children know the rules, they still keep asking for more! And it’s so easy and tempting to “give in” as the parent…
Yet, I’m not willing to take all things technical completely away. I’m not about extremes. I know that, used sparingly and at opportune times, these things can be good. We’ve had many fun family nights of playing Wii together. In the middle of the winter, when outside play is limited, a game of tennis or basketball on the Wii is truly a fun alternative. Sometimes a little downtime playing an iPod game is a good option, too. I remember my brothers’ “electronic football” game and how much fun we had playing it! And Words with Friends can be a great (and even educational) way to connect with friends…especially when you’re the only girl in the family (and the oldest) and sometimes get a little bored with the games your little brothers enjoy playing! And the television. I will always sing the praises of PBS and have to give them partial credit for playing a role in the education of my children. And never before have I realized how good The Brady Bunch really is! Who knew?! Not only do my kids love to see and enjoy the family life and antics of this dated family (they get a kick out of the clothes and the home decor), but they also get the added bonus (whether they know it or not) of observing some good family and moral values (which is hard to find on TV these days). I’ll take reinforcements any way I can get them! Not to mention, the lure of this program later in the day is a perfect reward for completed homework!
Yes, when functioning smoothly, technology has its perks. On paper, I can work it beautifully into my daily and weekly schedule, choosing when, what, and how much is appropriate.
But alongside that, comes a bit of reality. I have the perfect plan, but my children seem to rub up against it. Push the limits (not turning off the TV right when their program is over, playing Wii or iPod beyond the beeper that signals that their time is up, begging for more time, more programs…more, more more!). That’s when I want to throw it all out the window! My children are becoming addicted, I worry. My children don’t know how to entertain themselves. They’ve lost their ability to be creative and use their imaginations. To play together and enjoy each other’s company. To just “be kids” and have fun.
So I have to step in and become the mom. To make hard, unpopular choices. Just this past weekend, my husband and I had a long talk about this (as he, too, was experiencing their push back and “addiction”). His suggestion: no Wii or iPod touch for a week (well, he actually said a month…I suggested we take it one week at a time). Every Sunday evening, we’ll gather as a family and discuss how things went the previous week and make a decision about the upcoming week.
It’s now Friday of our first week with no Wii or iPod touch. And it has been a glorious week! Knowing the hard-core limits, my children have risen to the occasion. They weren’t thrilled with the announcement, but they’ve accepted it and haven’t even asked to play either item! They’ve found other things to do. They’ve looked more forward to their one TV show for the day (The Brady Bunch at six o’clock). Brennan gets an extra half hour of TV (PBS), since he’s only in school half day. They’ve played together, worked more diligently on homework, and come up with other things to do. No longer do I have to deal with arguments over whose turn it is to play the iPod touch, what Wii game to play (if they are playing together), and frustrations over losing or things not going “their way” during some game they are playing. I was beginning to feel like my role as mom had become limited to mediating, moderating, and controlling all aspects of technology amongst the kids in our home. And in the midst of my attempts to control, I felt completely out of control!
I think I see a future of less “screen time” in our family. Just because we have them, doesn’t mean that we (they) have the right to play them every day. These items are for “special occasions” only. And I think we all will enjoy them more that way. And in the meantime, we can enjoy each other more!
As I linger over a question my mom raised ~ “Who is in control?” ~ I think of the changes that Randy and I have made this week. “Everybody else” is not in control. The Wii, iPod touch, and TV are not in control. Coming up with a plan as husband and wife ~ parenting partners to our children ~ I feel that Randy and I are back in control. And a part of me believes strongly that my children are glad. They want structure and limits. Even if they don’t know it.
So even if “everyone else is doing it” (and whether that statement is true or not!), we aren’t. And I’m okay with that.