If we’re being honest, my kids get too much screen time.
It started innocently enough. When my oldest was two, we were having a particularly hard time getting him dressed and out the door in the morning. Add to that a newborn and a demanding, full-time job, and I resorted to changing him in front of a short video clip on the iPad–an animated rendition of Itsy Bitsy Spider or anything on KidsTV123.
Around that time, a friend of mine found herself in the same predicament and reached out to me for advice. I shared my “secret.”
She was grateful. Actually, her exact response was: “I could marry you — our household is SO much happier now. Mornings go so smoothly, and [daughter] is so much happier without feeling like she has to throw tantrums every AM. Yay!”
But like many things that begin harmlessly, our clever fix eventually led us down that good old slippery slope. And lately, we had slid too far. Somewhere in there we had a third kid, until very recently, I was still working many hours, my husband works many more, and I often found myself muddling through on my own with three little boys–and our friend the iPad, who made more appearances than I care to admit.
What began as a brief daily video vignette turned into longer and longer stretches. Often it would bleed into breakfast. Sometimes it became videos before dinner, or (gasp!) during dinner, or just before bed. It became a crutch. A habit. The quality of the programming steadily deteriorated–along with my standards.
I got lazy, or maybe I was just cutting myself some slack.
Whatever it was, I hated that this was how we started our day. The familiar din of Fireman Sam or Thomas videos started to sound like the hum of my failure as a parent.
Then I read a blog post “blaming” TV for all sorts of things, including negative behaviors in today’s kids. It really resonated with me. I’d noticed my oldest had gotten far more aggressive and impatient in recent weeks and in turn, so had I. Too often, I didn’t recognize the words coming out of my mouth or the tone in which I was speaking them. I was not parenting the way I used or intended to. I wasn’t taking time to acknowledge his feelings, yet stay calm, but firm in enforcing my reasonable demands. It had all gone to shit.
It was time for a change.
This morning would be different.
When my oldest woke up and found me in the kitchen, I was ready. After a quick snuggle, I offered crayons and paper, books, breakfast…no, no, no. He “needed” videos. Things were devolving fast. He was heading to where we keep the iPad, fully defiant.
With my resolve nearly gone, he finally said something reasonable.
Mom, can I just watch *one* video?
Okay, one video. Like any addict, he needed to ease off, not quit cold turkey. I get it.
Immediately after the video ended, he turned off the iPad with little more than a gentle reminder. He joined me at the breakfast table. Soon after, his younger brothers woke and joined us too. The whole morning was joyful. We laughed more. The older boys resolved their conflicts creatively and on their own. The squeals were happy ones, not resistant whines.
Mid-meal, the older two cooperated to form a “bench” out of three of our kitchen chairs, leaving a spot for me in the middle. After doling out waffles and changing the baby’s diaper, I climbed in between them. As the 3yo rest his head on my shoulder, my oldest told us a story. It was the story of this morning. I smiled and said I thought we were having such a good time because we weren’t watching videos and instead, we were spending time with each other. “We should do this every day!” came my son’s earnest response. We high-fived on it.
Throughout the morning, I was able to think more clearly about how and when to react without the constant buzz of Peppa Pig in the background. Instead of fighting over whose turn it was, my oldest prepared the iPad with my middle’s favorite video as his “one” for the morning. He didn’t protest once when I helped him get dressed, even saying “thank you, Mom” as I pulled the pant leg over his foot !
It’s easy to find excuses, scapegoats for negative behavior–a more aggressive new kid in his class, the fact that we’re moving in a few months and he feels the stress and sadness of that…
But I also had to look within. Face some tough conclusions. Make a change.
We’re not getting rid of the iPad for good. Please, I’m no purist. Nor am I a perfect parent. Nor do I think perfect parenting means no screens. And I recognize the value, in moderation, of some harmless programs, like Daniel Tiger or Sid the Science Kid, or “educational” games like Snail Bob or Build a Train, especially during the times I *really* need that extra pair of hands–even if they do come attached to a silly pig with a delightful British accent.
Then again, it’s only Day 1. Hold me to this, people!!