I’ve been struggling. Teetering on depressed, I guess. And when I get like that, I tend to zero in. I focus on the now, I focus on the day. I focus on the hour and when that gets too much, I focus on the minutes and my breath. I’ve been focusing on my breathing a lot lately. You see, my kids have been assholes. And it’s my fault. Well it’s our fault, Dub and me.
We shouldn’t be surprised, really. We uprooted them and plonked them down in a new state, town, house, school. They had to make new friends, learn new routines, get used to new weather and geography and all of this while behaving too??
I found myself lost, grappling for normal and being the cheery cruise ship director for a 4 and 6 year old. We found a few parks, geocaching, the library and the gym but days were largely filled with….well having to entertain ourselves. And at 6 and 4, when you’ve left all of your friends and your beach behind and Daddy is at work, you have each other and Mummy…..and TV.
We’ve always kept a pretty tight rein on the amount of screen time the Dublets get, keeping it to the pre-recorded shows we’ve selected and movies. But I’ve always known that TV is an excellent babysitter. I can completely understand why some parents have it on all the time. It’s not the right strategy for us, but I get it. The kids love it! They are entertained and quiet and I don’t have to get the beads out or the scissors or the glue or the glitter or clean up any of it. I don’t have to answer the endless questions and referee the fights. I get time to myself. I get peace.
So one 30 minute show in the morning at our house went to two shows in the morning and then #1 learned how to work the remote and…..they we’re quiet for a long time. So maybe it went to three shows (…….). Afternoon, rinse and repeat. And then there were the weekend mornings (oy vey!) And that was all fine and dandy…until I noticed what happened when I removed TV from the activity lineup. Arma-fucking-geddon. These kids were physically jonesing for TV shows. And the tantrums that ensued when they couldn’t get their fix were awful.
It had become worse when #1 started school and #2 was at home with me in the morning. One day I had let him play a game on my iPad while I took a quick shower after the gym. It was an educational sight words game and he sat happily on our bed playing. The next morning he wanted more and he asked if I could “dumpload” a game. And before long he was playing Strawberry shortcake nail painting games and the sight words were forgotten. He’d even ask me if I wanted to take a shower each afternoon, too. Then one morning I didn’t let him play……ho-ly-shit. And so began the currency of media. My kids had the monkey on their backs.
A few nights ago, I realized that something had changed in our family for the worse. Something was affecting our happiness as a unit. We were in rough shape and it bothered me greatly. I was grumpy, Dub was grumpy, I was sad, kids were sad, everyone was yelling at some point during the day and a lot in the evening. So Dub and I decide it was time we made a change. This wasn’t us. We don’t do this. Time to stop this shit and regain control of the empire. But what?
Then it occurred to me. The only thing that had changed in our family dynamic (other than all the physical location stuff) is the amount of screen time these maniacs were getting. We unanimously and immediately agreed. Media. We had facilitated our kids addiction to digital media.
So the TV shows were cut back to 1 a morning and one in the evening. One hour of television a day. The iPad was removed from the lineup all together, and the behavior train got back on track. After detox. Some pretty wicked detox.
Every family is different and every kid is different but I know this, Media IS a great babysitter, but it comes with strings attached. Yes, it will keep your kids entertained and quiet and happy. They’ll even learn a lot if they’re watching the right stuff (PBS has awesome shows and I can see they are absolutely learning things they’d never learn in school), but it sneaks it’s fingers around their brains and before you know it, they are hooked….and you are too. That peace I get is just as addictive as the shows they’re watching. And was just as hard to be deprived from. But they deserve more and so do I.
So now the empire has been righted. Chores are to be done and they are to be ready for school in every way before any TV can be watched. Fortunately for me, my kids a) take forever to get anything done and b) take forever to eat so the actual amount of time they get is now about 15 minutes. After school homework is done first and then outside play (trampoline, bikes etc.) , then dinner and only then can they watch a show. It has actually turned out to be a great motivator (ironically).
Now before anyone gets all excited and judgey about our screen restrictions, I do think kids should learn how to interact with different types of media. I do think they should be competent and fluent in the technology, I even truly believe they can learn great things from some of the shows AND that it’s ok to sometimes watch TV just for the sake of watching TV…(even if it’s junk TV). I just know that there are too many things to be addicted to and they’ll be exposed to a lot of them as they grow up. I know that they become better at interacting and socializing when they play together or with other kids. I know they have to use all of their brain when they are engaging in ANY other type of entertainment. I know they become better problem solvers when they play “the old fashioned way” with their toys in their rooms. Their creative and imaginative side is exercised when they have to think up and act out the game. And they do. They do all of this……but they wouldn’t if they had free rein on the remote. That’s for damned sure.