My kids are complete jerks with iPads.
Yes, I said it. And before you drag me across social media for hating on Apple products and being a horrible mother (I can just hear it now, “Her kids were probably jerks already.”), let me first explain.
If you are a regular reader, you know that I do my best to successfully co-parent my girls with my ex-husband, their dad. For the most part, we are in agreement about matters relating to the kids and things run smoothly. This has not always been the case. Take, for example, the subject of technology. I did not feel it was appropriate for the girls to get iPads when they were three and six years old. Yes, my three-year old had an iPad. When, at four, she started texting me I almost lost my mind. While I strongly disagreed that these gadgets should have waited until they were older – and earned – they stayed at the other house and there was nothing further I could do about it. So I moved on.
In the last five years, a lot has changed. I’ve sacrificed speaking to my girls on the weekend they were gone and settled for a text conversation every day. I’ve tried to talk about internet safety, app responsibility, and appropriate Netflix programming for children their ages with the adults on the other side and them, most of which has fallen on deaf ears. It seems that every weekend they were at the other house, they were connected to these iPads and living a different world that I knew nothing about.
About six months ago, the iPads slowly crept their way in to my house. I do not remember the reason why they crossed the magical barrier from one house to the other, but they did. At first, it was fun that they could communicate with their Dad without me being the middleman. Now eight and eleven I hoped that they had learned something from all of the safety and tech responsibility that I had driven them crazy with, in addition to what they’d heard at school. I enjoyed that they seemed to be in contact with their Dad more than before, and it seemed harmless.
Until the first time a consequence was needed, and I chose the iPad. You would have thought that I had just dropped-kicked their favorite childhood stuffed animal in to a wood chipper from the howling protests. There were tears and slammed doors. Yelling and general insanity. I couldn’t believe that my mild-mannered children had suddenly turned in to something resembling a crazed howler monkey at the thought of being without their iPads. There was a monster in my house, and it’s maker was Apple.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that there were times that we as a family should have been doing something together instead retreating to our separate corners after a long day. I screwed up. I own it. After that first incident, I was hard-core about the limits that I placed on the iPad access. Nothing directly before bed. Only three of seven days were they allowed to even touch the thing. While at first, the limitations seem to correct the insane behavior of earlier I realized that it just wasn’t enough. It was like giving them a little crack and expecting them not to freak out when I wanted them to go without.
Not only were they mean to each other, but they were mean to me. There was no help around the house, and quite frankly they were starting to treat me like I was the hired help. It became a game of “not mine”. “Sorry I can’t rinse that dish out in the sink, it’s not mine.” “That laundry you asked me to take upstairs? Not mine.” “Oh that thing that’s been laying on the floor where it doesn’t belong for a week? I didn’t put it there. It’s not mine”. Yes, these were answers that were coming out of their mouths every time I asked them to do something. Rushing through whatever they were supposed to be doing or not lifting an EXTRA FINGER to help out because they needed their few minutes of “screen time”.
Excuse my language, but f*ck that.
While I can’t blame all of the behavior on the crack-tablets, I sure held them accountable for much of this horrid attitude. Three weeks ago when their dad picked them up for the weekend, I politely told him that the iPads were not to return. I wanted them gone and wanted my house back. Everyone was pissed off. Me because I was tired of fighting with them every day to accomplish the basics and negotiating-slash-bribing with screen time to get it done – the worst kind of parenting in my book. The kids because they were losing their iPads. Him because he was losing his easy access to communication with the kids. I gave zero f*cks. Z.E.R.O.
They came home from that weekend with no iPads and . . . nothing. The world didn’t end. They didn’t curl up in a ball and die from boredom. It took them a few days to get back in to a routine of finding non-digital things to do, but they did it. We picked a family word: Community. Banished was “it’s not mine” and instead it was replaced with the, “we are working as a team” mentality. If we are out of something, they can start a grocery list. If they needed toilet paper in their bathroom, they could walk downstairs to the pantry to grab some. They started helping without being asked, and it started to feel less like a battlefield and more like a home.
What I’ve figured out in these last weeks without the iPads is that my children are nicer people without them. We are a nicer family when we aren’t racing through dinner, chores, unpacking bags to get to an electronic screen. We talk about our day. We hang out together and watch things as a family, laughing and snuggling on the couch. The girls will go in to the basement play room and hang out together and play games. Color. Draw. Read actual books as opposed to skimming apps. I’ve signed them up for a subscription box service – Bitsbox – where they can learn to code and create on the computer constructively. In my kitchen, on their school laptops where I can see them. Looking back, I can see that my parenting had gotten lazy with the iPads around. They were great babysitters when I was too busy with work or whatever to really engage. But it came at a cost – a high one – that I am glad I opened my eyes to and course corrected before it completely got out of hand and there was permanent damage to our family dynamic. I should be grateful to the iPad for pointing out the areas that my parenting was lacking and pushing me to step up my game.
So maybe I was the complete jerk after all, not the iPad?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on technology in your home and how you handle changes in your kids because of it.