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limiting screen time for kids

Why I Made My Son Go Cold Turkey on Tech

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I made my eight-year-old son go cold turkey on tech. At the height of summer. I know it sounds crazy, even as I type the words. What prompted me to take such drastic action?

Before I get to the reasons, a disclaimer: I have not banned all screen time. (My son can still do the odd bit of coding on Scratch and watch some TV because it doesn’t seem to have the same impact on him). So I may be mean, but I’m not that mean.

Like all parents, I have long held a love-hate relationship with iPads and other gaming. On one hand I know that tech is so necessary and invaluable for this generation (hello future career!) yet on the other, I don’t like what it does to my otherwise lovable son. And for that matter, I don’t like what it does to his otherwise lovable mom.

Over the past few years, I’ve tried adhering to a strict schedule. I’ve set the kitchen timer, and given warnings. I’ve tried to claim that I’m limiting screen time. I’ve tried restricting or removing certain apps that proved problematic. To no avail.

Ultimately I resorted to using the tablet as ammo to motivate my son to [clean up/ have a good day at school/you name it]. Sometimes it worked, and he did my bidding. But most of the time I wound up hating myself for using Super Mario as a bribe. Parenting fail 101.

Eventually I grew so tired of the haranguing, the constant nagging, whining, and battling. “Five more minutes” stretched into fifteen, which grew into fifty minutes. Enough.

What if, I said to hubby one night, we take them away—the Wii, the iPad—not just for the day, but permanently? Are you sure, he asked. I nodded, knowing that since I was at home with our son that week I would bear the brunt of this epic parenting decision. Truthfully, I wasn’t totally sure. (Disclaimer #2: I’m never 100% unequivocally sure of any parenting decision I make. Who is?) But it was worth a shot. Gaming was bringing out the worst in my kid, and the next day I told him so.

Because it’s my job to look after you and keep you healthy, I said, you cannot have Super Mario anymore. Or your tablet. Not during the week. Not on the weekend. Not. At. All. It’s not a punishment. You just can’t handle it. Of course he begged, pleaded, cajoled with promises to do better. But we’d been there so many times before.

This is what you do for an addict, even if he’s eight years old. It’s called tough love.

Stay strong, I told myself. The first few days would be the hardest. Mean mom. Cruella DeVille. You are taking away something he loves. On the surface having the tablet helps him unwind after a long day at school. But over time I’ve realized the reverse is in fact true. At least in my son’s case.

Gaming frustrates and overstimulates him to an extent that he simply cannot cope. I’d go so far as to say it’s destructive, unhealthy. Other kids may be better at handling their tech, and other parents may have struck a balance that works for them. Terrific!

I wouldn’t go so far as this viral blog and suggest that we are “ruining” our children. Yet I’m sure there are plenty of kids out there like my son who get way more screen time than they probably should, and they are suffering for it.

In our house the impact of no tablet was huge and immediate. After my son realized I wasn’t going to cave, he did an amazing thing. He started drawing more—he created an imaginary world, complete with his own creatures and a portal to our house! He found ways to occupy himself. He made up games and *gasp* rediscovered the overflowing toy cupboard that he has hardly touched in months. We enjoyed time together and laughed more than we had in a while.

Before I pulled the plug, he wasn’t interested in doing much besides gaming. And it was easy for me to let him have that extra 10-15 minutes because it meant I could finally put away that load of laundry or check Facebook again…

Part of me panicked. After all, wasn’t I just as addicted as him? I made a point to put my phone down more. If he could do it, then I could too. So what if he got bored? I didn’t need to plan out his day with military precision, but I did need to make myself available and give him my full attention sometimes. While he watched a TV show, I squeezed in some work. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t the end of the world either.

It’s still early days, and I wish I could say that he has stopped mentioning Mario (he hasn’t) but fortunately my resolve hasn’t wavered because I can see the difference it makes in him.

Like all parents, I’m trying to do what’s best for my son and for our family—and right now that means pulling the plug.

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