Ok. I apologize for the click-baity title but honestly, I think we are all allowed one or two of these every year as a writer.
Look. We all know I’m a terribly mediocre parent.
Despite the fact that I homeschool my two older children, I really don’t do much with the kids and let them watch a LOT of iPad because that’s easier than actually dealing with them. It’s especially more convenient when I’m trying to put Sasquatch down for a nap and I don’t want the other three to run amok and be assholes and scream and interrupt me and come into the room and piss me off because FFS YOU KNOW THE BABY IS TRYING TO NAP —
At any rate, you get the idea. My kids got upwards of 4-5 hours a day on the ipad, XBox, TV, phone, etc. I mean, you name it, THEY WERE ON IT.
And despite me not really noticing that my kids were more asshole-ish than usual (many of my friends have told me their kids become steadily assholier the more screen time they have), I’m sure all that screen time was not good for their brains or their eyes.
Ahhhh… Their eyes.
Here is the real reason why I cut back on their screen time.
Last year, Cookie Monster (7.5) and Gamera (5.75) both had to get glasses and they have to wear them when on iPads or reading or doing homework. I was bummed but not surprised because GENETICS, but other than making them wear their glasses, I did not change their behavior.
BECAUSE I’M MEDIOCRE AS FUCK AS WELL AS LAZY, OK?
And even though I have an optometrist friend who REFUSES to let her kids have ANY screen time due to her legitimate fears of their vision going bad – I mean, she deals with BLIND PEOPLE (literally) for her JOB – I STILL did nothing.
Because WHY WOULD I CHANGE MY BEHAVIOR at much cost to my convenience?
Well, after we came back from Taiwan (where my kids were ALWAYS on the iPad) and we ran into some of our friends again, I found out that they had DRASTICALLY cut out almost ALL screen time and were down to thirty minutes a day.
I almost barfed at the forced interactions with my children this would enable.
But the reason they cut down the screen time so much was because their nine year old son’s vision jumped from -100 to -400 in less than a year. LESS THAN A YEAR.
In case you need this in layman’s terms, THAT IS REALLY BAD.
And this scared me.
I spent the better part of my childhood mostly blind, wearing huge coke bottle glasses, hating any sports participation due to fear of getting my face smashed in by a ball, dealing with sweat and glasses (the WORST), having no peripheral vision (making sports REALLY difficult), hating swimming because I couldn’t see, and hating the outside because of the glare from the sun.
Though I had LASIK 17 years ago (OMG, SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO), I still have to wear glasses because I ruined my eyes again staring at computer screens and the iPhone in the dark. I mean, it’s nowhere NEAR as horrible (I was -925) but COME ON.
At any rate, I drastically cut down my kids’ screen time down to approximately 30 minutes on the iPad and then whatever TV I happen to watch (which isn’t very often).
Here’s what happened:
1) The kids rebelled. They’re still rebelling, a little bit.
Ok. The rebellion is a bit overstated. But they aren’t particularly happy about the restricted screen time – especially Glow Worm. Mostly because that is how I placated this child – with the iPad, his third parent. (I mean, YouTube taught him all his numbers, his letters, his colors, nursery rhymes and songs, and a ton of other things parents are actually supposed to teach their children.)
But I can deal with their grumbling because the longer I keep it up, the less they grumble. (And truthfully, I do give in to their grumbling a smidge – so that’s why I say APPROXIMATELY 30 minutes. What can I say? I’M WEAK.)
2) The kids are actually playing.
I mean, I know it’s super obvious. And I should have remembered that I have done this before. (Last year around this time, actually.)
But really! The children are actually playing. With our toys. With each other. With the baby.
And they’re funny. And fun.
I mean, they would occasionally play like this anyway, but it’s now for many hours every day now instead of every now and then.
For instance, the other day, the kids spent over an hour setting up several theaters of war between army men, dinosaurs, animals, and other toys. Then, Cookie Monster was busy fighting the battles. Gamera was selling concession stand snacks to the observers (Batman and Superman were watching from the doll house roof). Glow Worm was alternately playing waiter and grunt. Sasquatch was roaming the field randomly destroying things.
They have also played shockingly realistic live action Minecraft, Plants vs. Zombies, and American Ninja Warrior. Sadly, it all involves beating the shit out of each other with their Minecraft foam swords and axes. And fists.
They are coloring and drawing and cutting and pasting stuff.
They’re playing with newly made play dough. (See? I can occasionally be fun.)
They have even brought out the board games to play with each other (and fight with each other).
They have spent an entire afternoon pushing Sasquatch around in a laundry basket up and down the upstairs hallway and then lifting him up like it’s a litter and calling him the king. (It is as cute as it sounds.)
They have also pushed him around in the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe (and at high speeds!) and included Sasquatch in all their shenanigans as they pretended to work in a drive-thru restaurant and judged each other’s cooking.
They are having the childhood I imagined them having.
3) They go to bed much easier.
I mean, I knew all about that blue light nonsense interfering with their sleep sensors or whatever, but I never really did much about it. I just assumed my kids were dicks at bedtime because kids are dicks at bedtimes.
They’re not perfect. But I’ll take this relatively painless bedtime over the hell on earth it used to be.
4) Taking care of Sasquatch is much easier because now, the kids aren’t on the iPad so they are playing with each other and with him.
He’s like their own live doll.
5) I keep forgetting (more like actively not doing) a lot of their homeschooling because they’re having such a good time playing with one another. I feel like a jerk interrupting.
6) They are speaking more Chinese to each other.
OMG THEY ARE SPEAKING MORE CHINESE TO EACH OTHER.
Totally an unexpected side benefit!!
Even though I told the kids they could only watch Chinese videos on the iPad, I know they didn’t always do so. (In fact, they rarely did so.) And I didn’t enforce the rule because I was lazy. So simply by cutting down the iPad to 30ish minutes a day drastically cut down their English exposure.
Don’t get me wrong. They still mostly play together in English. But I swear, they played with each other for at least an hour in Chinese the other day. Yes, yes. There was also English mixed in, but OMG THEY PLAYED TOGETHER IN CHINESE. AND I DID NOT HAVE TO MAKE THEM!
7) In addition, Cookie Monster has actually picked up BOOKS when he’s bored and VOLUNTARILY read Chinese books. (Don’t get too excited – he can only read Chinese. He can’t read English.)
8) But most importantly, I realized that the kids don’t really get bored. Oh, sure. They will ask for the iPad or TV or whatever, and for awhile, I felt guilty that they weren’t getting in their favorite games to get better. But then, I came to my senses.
I SHOULD NOT FEEL GUILTY ABOUT NOT LETTING MY KIDS PLAY AS MUCH VIDEO GAMES.
So now, I’m over it. And though they keep asking for the screen, they also aren’t really suffering over not having it.
I don’t know why I am always so worried that they’re not going to have fun without an iPad in front of their faces. I know in my brain that it’s ridiculous to have this worry. But nevertheless, I do.
And I really hope that I can stick to my guns and not get lazy and forget all about how awesome they are when they’re not zombies (unless, of course, they’re pretending to be zombies).
Do you severely restrict your children’s screen time? How is that working for your family? Let me know in the comments.