As most of you who have read my stuff know, I am NOT against tech. I am, if anything, a self-proclaimed tech evangelist. I don’t believe in a Digital Detox because I don’t consider technology any more toxic than water. Both are necessary, helpful parts of our daily life and both can be harmful if mistreated, misused, or overused.
With that in mind, let me take you down a path I recently followed with my children. Please bear in mind that I am not telling you any of this to incite a reaction, I am simply relaying my observations to you in hopes that you find them in some way helpful.
First, let me set the stage. The school year is progressing, all my boys, grades 6, 3, and K, are getting really sick of homework and the cabin fever is starting to set in. Also, all three boys skate, 6 and K are figure skaters, 3 is a speed skater. All three spend several days after school at the rink. They all are musicians, learning violin and cello, and all of us downhill ski every Friday night.
To get them to have school time, skiing time, skating time, and homework time, I decided I would remove all iPads from the house every Sunday night thru Friday afternoon. My hope was that this would help keep them focused, provide less distraction and make our evening more stress-free. They would no longer skip homework or practice time in order to have device time, at least that was my plan. Here, with a small dose of humor and a ton of irony, are excerpts from my journal during that time, how that worked, and what I learned from doing it.
Week 0: All the boys had iPads, everyone was spending time online on their iPad instead of doing homework, or practicing music or skating. I recognize this as a problem, think through a solution, and all iPads are removed for the weekdays, the internet is turned off when it isn’t homework time. This problem is solved. I congratulate myself for being a great parent.
Week 1: No iPads. The boys are still too busy playing to do homework or practice. They have all dug out laptops (remember, these are issued by the school) and the games have changed from modern mobile apps to Minecraft, Roblox, and old PC or flash based games. Ok, I didn’t see that coming, but it is kind of funny; I chuckle to myself, we talk about it, I reiterate my reasoning and motivation to the boys. Now, the problem is solved. I congratulate myself for being a great problem solver.
Week 2: No iPads, and no laptops. The boys are still too busy playing to do homework or practice. They have all managed to find their old Nintendo DS’s (several of these have been lost for months…) and are sitting around their bedroom, playing wirelessly with each other and passing game cartridges back and forth. Now the games have changed from Minecraft and Roblox to Mario and Zelda. I find this quite funny, we all laugh, and talk about it. I reiterate my point for this exercise. I stress to the them the importance of homework, practice and properly following the rules. They assure me they understand. The problem is Finally solved. I congratulate myself for raising such resourceful children.
Week 3: No iPads, no laptops, no DS’s. The boys are still too busy to do homework or practice. They have discovered reruns of fairly odd parents and Powerpuff girls on cable TV. They are now trying to spend every waking moment sitting on the floor in front of the TV which hasn’t been turned on in longer than recent memory and only got cable hooked up again at the start of the Olympics so we could watch figure skating, skiing and speed skating… I find this infuriating but hilarious. We all have a talk about it again, going over the finer points of the household rules, the importance of homework and practice and the consequences of the abuse of digital media. My boys assure me that they had not touched a “device” intentionally (the TV isn’t a computer?!?). Since they really had never watched TV before and since we had recently re-activated it and encouraged them to watch it with us in the evening for the Olympics that they were sure it must have been OK. This problem is Actually Fully solved now for sure! I refrain from cursing, crying or drinking, and apprehensively congratulate myself on being a fair and just person who doesn’t swear at children.
Day 2 of Week 4. No iPads, no laptops, no DS, no TV. To my surprise and dismay, my boys are too busy to finish their homework or practice. I am laughing so hard I am crying. They are huddled around an old tape player my father loaned me that was lost in my basement workshop. They are listening to the books on tape that were with it. He sent it all over so I could convert it all to MP3 for him so he can still listen to them. My oldest son immediately defends their choice because “cassettes are Analog, and they were told no Digital media”. They win. I am openly weeping from desperations and abject amazement. Well played Son. I opt to hug it out with my boys instead of screaming, or loosing my mind. I will never explain to them why I am now giving all of their devices back. I just tell them that my little experiment is over and they can continue with our life as it was. The truth is, my children just devolved 30 years in a matter of weeks. As I look back over it, they went back thru all the devices that have been blamed for the ruining of our children for the last three decades. What did I learn from this? What am I trying to share? It isn’t the devices fault! Kids will be Kids and that is why parents have to parent them. Why am I giving in and letting them have their iPads back? Because I know the next step of the devolution. If I keep taking things away from them, before long, they will be sneaking out behind the woodshed to smoke cigarettes and listen to Elvis on vinyl, or worse, they could start reading those… Books…
The constant over all these years is not the device; it is this: No kid wants to finish their homework. It has nothing to do with an iPad. No kid wants to practice their violin or their waltz jump, and we can’t blame that on technology or games. The simple answer is this, homework and practice are work, they are structured, they are the establishment and are inherently uncool. That isn’t a technology or parenting failure, that is human nature. So what do you do about it? Well, start like I did every time. Talk to them. Sit down, laugh, love and talk openly with them about your expectations and your goals, then talk to them about THIER expectations, THIER goals. Then, as kind, compassionate, loving people, work it out. Your kids really do want to make you happy, they do want you to be proud, but they also have to be kids, they have to push boundaries and see where those lines are. As their parent, you must stay firm, reassure them, remind them and direct them. By your words and your deeds they will learn, they will listen, watch, and grow. This doesn’t mean you can’t set rules, and just because I gave in at the end doesn’t mean I failed. You have to be firm but still flexible. In the end, they will respect you, your rules and have a better understanding of self-control and self-reliance. You can do this! They can help! But thru it all, remember one thing: it isn’t the devices fault.
My one final observation as we walk away from this: It is much easier to set parental controls on an iPad than a cassette player. 🙂