My Kids Have Become The Screentime Zombies The Experts Warn Us About
We let our kids have Kindle Fires. They were just Kindle Fires, right? Not iPads. They didn’t know how to get on YouTube. We’d kept them away from electronics for so long. But, soon my kids, who never watched TV, were absolutely hooked on Disney Plus and video games. It brings me to tears. But I don’t know how to stop it.
I was that mom who never let her kids have electronics. I severely limited television. I only grudgingly allowed an old-school, 8-bit Nintendo into the house. They still spent most of their spare time drawing, reading, and playing with LEGOs. They still played outside all the time, without me having to nag. They were imaginative and creative. They still are.
But it was so easy, when my older sons were at their various activities, to hand the tablet to my youngest. So easy to move from Teach Your Monster to Read to that Angry Birds game. Suddenly, they were obsessed. They wanted to play Angry Birds all the time. They whined to play Angry Birds, especially my youngest, who has a tendency to become addicted to screens. They sat together, huddled on the couch, one of them playing Angry Birds while the other two looked on. They talked constantly about Angry Birds, Angry Birds, Angry Birds.
My husband has a chronic illness, and I work almost constantly. So it’s hard to keep our kids entertained. And when they needed to wind down, it was so easy to push that TV time from half an hour to an hour or longer. They love Star Wars and always have; when Disney Plus came out, we had to get it so we could watch The Mandalorian. Now they’re obsessed with Gravity Falls, and yeah, the Twin Peaks jokes are funny, but I want to smash the television with a hammer these days.
They talk about it constantly. They draw about it. For school, they decide to write about it. They used to write about lizards and toads and Macbeth (my oldest has the comic book version).
When their father isn’t home, I ban screens. They are not allowed to watch TV, unless we watch a documentary for school. They are not allowed to use their tablets, unless we are using them to do work for — you guessed it — school. But they still ask. They know that I don’t let them use electronics. But every day, my two youngest wake up, and at some point in the hour afterwards, they say, “Can we use our tablets?” They ask over and over and over. I snap, “No!”
They roll their eyes.
My youngest counts down the hours until his father comes home. He doesn’t do it because he misses Daddy so terribly — though that’s part of it. He does it because he knows that when Daddy comes home, Daddy lets them turn on the TV. He also knows that when his brothers go to their diving practice, he uses his tablet. So he will actively choose to sit on concrete bleachers, with the tablet, rather than stay home and play. For him, electronics are the order of the day.
They do not touch their Keva blocks. They don’t draw very much anymore. They play outside a lot, to be fair, and they play with their LEGOs.
I know what you’re thinking: “You’re the parent. You set the rules and stick to them. Get on the same page with your husband!” But, it’s more complicated than that. If only it were that easy.
I know the solution: I need to work less. My husband needs to get better. But we’re hanging on by a thread as it is, so that isn’t really a solution. We are literally doing the best we can right now.
They’re becoming boring. They’re becoming … zombie-ish. All they want is screens. All they ask about is screens. The only one who still reads a lot is the oldest. The other two are ambivalent about it. If denied a tablet or the television, I’ve seen them sit on the couch doing nothing for up to half an hour at a time. I suggest things for them to do. I suggest activities. I offer to do the activities with them. But, it’s always a fight, and we all know that forcing a child to do something is never met with much enthusiasm.
I want to take all the electronics and smash them.
My eight-year-old just asked me if he could get on his tablet. I snapped at him that I was literally writing, right now, about how obsessed he was with it. “Why do you have to write about that?!” He flopped back onto the couch. “I haven’t been on a screen like, all day.”
He just got back from his grandmother’s, where he probably spent a good several hours staring at the television.
I’m losing the battle against electronics. I hate it.
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