The interesting thing about writing, especially personal blogs, is that many people don’t realize that what you write, in a moment or on that specific day, is based on whatever mood you may be in. So what I may have written a few years ago, or a month ago, or even sometimes a week ago, I may not still believe today. I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong or that I’ve changed my opinion.
Take a piece I wrote almost a year ago, two months into this pandemic, on why having no rules in my house actually works. You can read it here.
I write, “When I see my children laughing together, in front of some sort of screen, it melts my heart that they’re spending time together. I’ll take sibling bonding over the horrors of too much screen time.” Oh, how I wish I could take that back now!
The reason I never had strict rules around screen time is that my kids weren’t on their screens all that much because they went to school, where they could socialize in real life. They had other activities at least three evenings a week, and at least one activity or a playdate or birthday party on the weekends. Remember when we constantly talked about over-scheduling our kids? Yeah. Me neither.
But lately, I’ve watched my 8-year-old son become a full-on screen addict, especially now that there really is nothing to do or anywhere to go.
I can honestly now say I’m terrified at how much time my kid is on his screens. So I take back what I wrote. That being said, how can I start imposing strict screen time now, when I actually need him to be on his screens for school or when I’m trying to work.
Screen addiction for kids, I’m realizing, is real. I do not need to read the hundreds of thousands of posts on rules surrounding screen time, nor do I have to follow studies on the effects. Why? I’m not only living it, but I’m witnessing my son’s screen addiction, in real-time, right in front of my eyes.
I’ll share a couple of quick examples before I share an actual conversation I had with my son, who again, is only eight.
From 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. today, he can only be on his computer for school. And I can only be on my computer for work. He can’t play on any of his devices, or any of his sister’s devices, and I can’t be on my phone until 6 p.m.
Because, honestly, I’m not doing so well here either. I’ve always been unapologetic about being on my phone. What’s also terrifying is realizing what a hypocrite I am, when it comes to my own screen time.
Holt has his own computer, two iPads, and an Xbox. And that’s just at my house. I don’t know what devices he has at his father’s, but when he usually comes home and I ask him if he had any fun over the weekend, my son’s answer is always, “I played Xbox.”
I started to notice that when my son is on his iPad, I could be standing right next to him, asking him a question, and the little dude wouldn’t even look up. (As an aside, who came up with this addictive online game Among Us? I’d like to have a word, please.)
Any time my son is now behind a non-related school screen, which is practically all hours when he is not in school, it takes me at least THREE times, asking him the same question, my voice slowly raising as I repeat the question, before he even notices I am standing there.
He will, finally, look up, dazed, as if he’s trying to figure out who this human is, in front of him, because in real life, I’m not animated like the characters on the games he’s addicted to. He most definitely hadn’t heard what I had asked three fucking times. That, or the kid has gotten into my very well hidden stash of pot, that’s how glazed over his eyes are, when he looks up from his screens.
When he’s in front of his iPad, a fire alarm could go off and I can honestly say I’m not sure he’d even notice. So, when I say this addiction to screens could be life or death, I’m not entirely joking.
I started to test out how bad his addiction is, because I was genuinely concerned and I’m not really the type of mother who gets overly concerned about much to do with parenting. Generally, I feel pretty confident in the way I parent and raise all my children. My children are kind. They are outgoing. They have great senses of humour. They have compassion. I promise you’d like them! This, really, is the first time I feel like a complete failure as a parent.
Holt loves Timbits. The other day, I bought him the biggest box of Timbits, plopped them down right beside him on the couch, as he was watching YouTube videos of South Park on one of his iPads.
“Look Holt. Here’s your favourite” I said overly perkily. My son didn’t notice I was there, and even more weirdly, he didn’t notice the Timbits, until about an hour and ten minutes later, when he asked, “Where did these come from?” I should have, in retrospect, just threw a Timbit (or five) at his head, to get his attention. That’s how bad it’s become.
Then, as I’m trying to figure out how to taper back my son’s time on devices, when he’s literally never had rules, my heart sank when I peeked on him last week, and the teacher was showing them YouTube videos about a school project. So, basically, even when my son is on a screen “during school hours,” a valid reason, he’s now watching a screen watching another screen? One mother commented that her kid had to watch a women’s volleyball game for their “online” gym class.
I also caught Holt logging out of his class last week and playing with his iPad under the dining room table, numerous times. Unless I check in on him every 5 minutes, he still does this. I can’t check on him that often or you wouldn’t be reading this.
And that’s how I ended up in a $200 bet with my son, who again, is eight!
“I’ll give you $100 so you can buy wrestling figures if you aren’t on any screens tomorrow until 6 pm, aside from school.”
His answer floored me.
My son, in grade three, said no way. And he’s my kid who has grasped the concept of money and how much things cost, the most. If my 8-year-old is turning down $100 to be off all non-essential devices, for less than 12 hours, that says a lot, doesn’t it? Even the offer of $200, the dude had to, in his words, “think about it.”
“I don’t know,” he said. It was like I was asking him to make a life or death decision on his dog, he was so undecided. So my son would rather give up $200(!) than give up non-essential screen time for less than 12 hours. That’s not good.
It’s bad. Very bad.
That being said, he’s smart enough, to have responded, “What am I going to do with $200? There’s nowhere to go to buy anything!” He’s not wrong. Even I’m praying for snow, and I hate everything about winter, so I can convince him to go tobogganing, the only outdoor activity he seems to enjoy.
This horror story got worse when my son called ME out.
“If I can’t be on my iPads or Xbox, then you can’t be on your phone,” he finally said, accepting the $200 bet.
“Let’s do it! The first person caught on a device when it’s not work or school-related loses!”
I’ll admit, this is hard, for me. Can I stay off social media for 24 hours? Yes. Of course! But do I panic if I misplace my phone, for even 90 seconds? Yes. Yes, I do.
I’m sure there are probably people reading this, nodding their heads, as well as those wondering why I don’t just, “Shut it down, force the kid to go outside, take the devices away, because after all you’re his mother.”
Well, I don’t like yelling at my kids, especially at Holt, my funniest but most lazy kid. It could take 30 minutes to convince him to go for a ten-minute walk around the block. And I’m just so damn tired, like all of us. Spending 45 minutes listening to tantrums 10 times a day, trying to get him off his devices is not something I can do. I’m not strong enough to conquer this! And I’ve failed him.
I’m worried the kid’s eyesight is going. I’m worried his brain is turning to mush. I’m worried he won’t know how to socialize. I’m just…really worried.
As for the bet? Well, it’s now almost 2:30 pm and I’ve already caught him, on his computer, sort of “in” school, while also having a second tab open with YouTube videos of wrestling. He lost. And he didn’t care!
But I lost as well. I needed to call the pharmacy for a refill for my daughter and the only way to do this was to pick up my phone! If you know a way to scale my kid’s screen time back, without my son suffering from withdrawal symptoms, after months and months and months of unlimited screen time, please share!
Maybe someone needs to come over and throw Timbits at MY head.