Thursday February 21 2013 1211 pm
Last week, I wrote about the adjustments in our house–and my attitude–toward the tween and his new technology after I realized that “Texting is the New Phone Call.”
“Jack” is now allowed to text seven days per week. It’s a big exception to our previous screen-time rules, but I believe it’s a good one.
Texts aren’t the only exceptions that have crept into those rules, however. The iPod Touch in a tween’s hands is like the tiny, hairline crack in the foundation of your basement that your handyman tells you might possibly one day let in a smidge of dampness, only to discover that by the end of the spring rains, you have three inches of standing water covering your basement floor.
The rules began with a bright enough line: no screen time during the week. The inevitable result of this declaration was that both children got off the school bus on Fridays, tossed their backpacks aside and dove for any and every device within their reaches–preferably all at once. Food, verbal interaction, even bathroom needs were secondary.
The kids hoarded their screen use into the weekends, and we began to impose limits then, too. Jack in particular had a tendency to turn into a grunting, Neanderthalish version of his usual self following too many hours in front of the small screen. After witnessing this phenomenon repeatedly and consistently over a long period of time, we explained what we had seen. He didn’t deny it, and mournfully agreed to comply with the limits.
Enter the iPod.
First, Jack asked if he could check the WeatherChannel app each morning before he got dressed. Who could say no to that?
Next, Jack requested permission to follow his fantasy Premier League soccer team on his iPod. The head of his club soccer team had prompted the boys to participate in the fantasy league as a means of encouraging them to follow professional soccer, and Jack had been using his father’s computer and iPhone for this purpose. Now that Jack had his own device, it just made sense to allow him to use it.
No big deal, right? But now the iPod is in Jack’s hands every day. And we keep going.
Jack had been playing some games with his friends on my iPhone. And I was getting pinged by one or another of them daily. The truth was that I couldn’t wait to rid myself of these interruptions, and we transferred these games to Jack’s iPod.
Blissful silence for me. But Jack was now getting pinged by his friends all week. And he couldn’t resist it. He wanted to play. I couldn’t blame him.
My son with the excellent report cards and the good behavior came to me and asked: if he accomplished everything he needed to get done before school early, could he have ten or fifteen minutes before the bus comes to play on his iPod?
Of course I said yes.
So where are we now, in reality? Jack plays on his iPod for a few minutes in the morning, and sometimes in limited capacity in the evenings. (Did I mention he and I and his father have been having great Ruzzle tournaments on our devices lately? Sigh…) On weekends, it’s glued to him like peanut butter to jelly.
Jack still has a tendency to become a zombie when he spends too much time on the small screen. By “zombie,” I mean a less pleasant version of the boy I genuinely enjoy being around. He grunts rather than talks, becomes sarcastic and snappish, semi-ignores the people around him, takes offense over comments that wouldn’t otherwise bother him, and in general exhibits a decline in social skills that dissipates once the iPod is removed from his possession for a while. Anecdotally, other parents of tween boys with whom I’ve spoken have noticed a similar pattern.
My husband and I have spoken with Jack about this problem, and he claims to get it. But the tween brain being what it is, that understanding doesn’t function when he’s in the midst of the behavior.
So what to do?
We could bring back the structure of strict screen limits, but I honestly don’t believe the limits that worked so well in earlier childhood represent a realistic approach to modern life for an older child. (See last week’s post.) Technology is part of these kids’ lives, and they need to be taught how to live with it, not how to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Maybe I need to get stricter in a different way. Perhaps I need to establish that flexibility is something you earn on an ongoing basis, and if you can’t be sociable off-screen, you can’t have more time on-screen. Maybe I need to be more willing to take away iPod privileges completely in the short term–for a day, or three, or a week–in order to achieve a better result in the long-term.
What do you think? Have you run into a similar problem with your kids? Have you come up with any solutions?