With a mix of shame and pride, I admit that ‘iPad’ was one of my daughter’s first dozen words.
She could Skype her grandparents on her own when she was 2 years old and at 3 and a quarter, she knows all touchscreen passwords in the house. She can flick through photos, choose music, and search her YouTube history.
Philosophically, I have nothing against the iPad. Screentime is unavoidable for most first-world kids. Workplaces, schools, and even daycare centres are recognising the need for experience and education to ensure IT literate citizens of the future.
Practically, we’ve had a problem.
The two iPads were a Christmas gift from my mother, who is pretty IT savvy for a Grandma. Four days later, my husband and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary in a hotel in town without the kids. We spent two hours playing separately on our respective devices. This should have been our first clue.
At first, we owned the iPads. Soon, the iPads owned us. We could barely watch a movie without relying on a supplementary screen for virtual interaction. Shortly after, the kids appropriated the anti-social little tablets.
Sure, I worried about brain changes. And how much time is too much time? And am I a crap, lazy parent? But cooking dinner was so easy. And a little parent guilt just proves you’re doing the job right. Right?
And if someone had the gall to put my practice into question, I harkened back to the wise words of Radio DJ Matt Walsh, “I always love the older folks who lecture about how THEIR kids weren’t as “attached to electronics” as kids are nowadays. That’s probably true, but mainly because, well, YOU DIDN’T HAVE ELECTRONICS. You had a toaster and a black and white TV with 2 channels, both of which were pretty easy to regulate. But, sure, congratulations for not letting your kids use things that didn’t exist. On that note, I have a strict “no time machines or hover-boards” policy in my home. It is stringently enforced.”
My own childhood and adolescence were heavily influenced by after school TV and a cordless phone, while my mum cooked nutritious meals. I still had time to read all 167 Babysitter Club books which were the building blocks for my future career as an English teacher. Technology didn’t kill me then. I suspect it probably won’t kill me or my children now.
What did start to eat at me about the iPads was the competing noise. Cooking dinner or watching TV and simultaneously listening to the soundtrack of the virtual crowd and ref whistles in the FIFA Game app while trying to block out the charming tunes and narration of, “Somewhere hidden amongst thorny brambles is a little kingdom of elves and fairies. Everyone who lives here is very, very small…”
The Noise. Followed by the irritation of being flat out ignored by the kids. The wee battles to end screen time became a bit more dramatic with every meal that passed. iPads had found their way onto the breakfast table because it was just easier. What’s a few cartoons over rice bubbles?
Bedtime was a test of will that Samuel L. Jackson narrated in my head each night. iPads became currency, used for bartering and were creeping into bed between bears instead of stories which is when (see my profession, as stated above) I got really uncomfortable. iPads were officially an issue for me.
One sunny Sunday, we had friends from London (the centre of the universe) visiting our quaint family life. Being childless, this couple believed my daughter to be utterly charming and engaging, entertaining her until the magic hour of 7pm. And my darling 3-year-old went to bed.
And that was it.
No screaming, no shouting, no begging, no hopping up out of bed and coming downstairs with silly requests four times. Unusual but very welcome. I had a taste of this calm new world and I wanted more.
So the iPad was banned. At first from noon and now, pretty much always if I’m in charge (Keep in mind we’re only on week three of the experiment proper).
Like I posted and gloated on Facebook, “Hassle-free bedtimes and an all-round more pleasant, agreeable child! Coincidence?”
Bedtimes are immensely better but that’s not even the biggest impact. My daughter is nicer. And more reasonable. And I am less irritable. The iPad had been interfering with our relationship, on both sides.
I have discovered it’s easier not to let my daughter have the iPad at all than it is to take it off her after 20 minutes. Like any addiction, it’s easier not to start down the slippery slope.
I have also discovered that TV does not have the same engrossing, behaviour-changing hold on my daughter. She can happily dip in and out of an episode of The Wiggles and be the best version of herself afterwards. I think it’s about the control and overwhelming breadth of choice on the iPad… It’s a neverending rabbit hole.
Ever go for a walk or run and start skipping songs? No matter how many you plough through, none of them are quite right? Even the OK tunes make you think, “I’ve got 11,897 songs – there’s got to be a better one.”
Ever watch an entire episode of Homeland and have no idea who the bad guys are because you were surfing a Facebook tidal wave of status updates and cat memes?
It happens to me.
The unbelievable wealth of choice makes me irritable, spoiled, and unsatisfied. Not every day, but often enough. It is a headspace that did not exist for me in the 90s when I was stuck listening the same 14 songs on my mix tape or watching Saved by the Bell at 4pm every day after school because it was the only age-appropriate show that was on. I was happy. Especially if it was a rerun of the episode where Jessie Spano gets into caffeine pills (“I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it. I’m so, I’m so… I’m so scared, Zack.”) I was happy with what I was given.
I want my kid to be able to make do with what she has. Find satisfaction in situations she doesn’t have 100% control in. And be nice to me.
So the iPad ban 97.873% of the time is my solution for now. Maybe not forever, but for now.
Meanwhile, I’m going to use the iPad to YouTube that clip of Saved by the Bell.
**Disclaimer- I still love my iPad and iPhone. I totally don’t mind if other kids use them, just not my daughter much because it makes her ugly.