The Internet Doesn’t Come With Instructions, So I Wrote Some For My Family

by Micaela Birmingham
Originally Published: 

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We are not a big TV watching house, so I got cocky about not keeping tabs on my family’s screen time. It wasn’t until I made a point of logging how and when one of us turned on the phone or tablet, that I realized we need to better manage our time and our devices. Here are the signs that made me take notice:

1. Chargers Plugged in at the Kitchen Table

The most convenient outlet in our kitchen, not already used by an appliance, is next to the kitchen table. That means there is always a phone or an iPad plugged in while we are sitting and eating. “Bling” “Beep” “Ring” does not make for intimate family dinner conversation.

2. Grandparents on Skype at Dinner

Trying to get the kids to sit still to talk to their grandparents via Skype is never easy, but put a bowl of food in front of them and you can guarantee they will at least stay in one spot for a while. This became our go-to time to call up the grandparents who live in another country and really love seeing their on-screen grandkids. The problem was, our family dinner was basically ruined whenever we did this. Maybe your grandparents are tech savvy, but our Skype calls usually sound more like:

Us: “We can’t hear you.”

Grandparents: “What?”

Us: “Turn on your microphone”

Grandparents: “Call on the phone?”

Us: “You are frozen.”

Kids: “Can we watch Frozen now?”

3. Kids using Pinterest But Not Actually Looking at Pinterest

I was thrilled that my daughters were so into looking at costumes, party favors and cookie designs on Pinterest – until they were led off Pinterest. Oops. That mermaid costume was cute until it was on a half-naked man. Thankfully the girls were sufficiently freaked out by the overweight mer-man to shut off the iPad themselves.

4. Piano Lessons are Expensive

My kids love listening to music and watching YouTube videos. So, my husband and I hatched a grand plan to let them watch “piano” videos on the iPad to inspire their piano practicing that had become a chore. Inevitably, what started as an Elton John instrumental tribute, quickly turned into a Watch Me Whip and Nae Nae session bearing no connection to their keyboard. Note to self: it’s probably better to get the practicing in first before letting them hit YouTube.

5. “Just Checking” really means “Just Addicted”

During weekend car rides with the family, I was usually the first to open my phone “just to check” on my ever so important internet life that in no way includes any situation that could not wait until later to check on. I noticed that my “checking” also meant I was ignoring my husband, my kids questions and even worse, setting a bad example for my kids’ screen habits.

6. My Twin Cousins on Spring Break

It seemed like a great idea to share the Instagram video of my daughter’s classmate hitting a home run at his little league game. She was mesmerized, watching it over and over. When she got bored, she scrolled down to the next image in my feed of my 20-something twin cousins on on Spring break, doing things twins do best when on an alcohol-fueled booze cruise.

7. Night Time is Not the Right Time

The last hour before the kids are asleep can sometimes be the most hectic and lonely for a parent. My exhaustion from the day tends to peak right about the time someone in my house revolts over hair washing or teeth brushing. These are the times it is so easy to turn on a screen to reconnect with the adult world, or put the kids in an iPad coma, just for a few blissful minutes. I know this is the worst possible time to devote attention to these devices for a bunch of well-documented reasons, but I had to say it out loud for the fact to sink in.

8. iPad Memory is Precious

There is nothing like being all excited to watch the next episode of your favorite online show and getting the dreaded “There is not memory available” error message on your device. This becomes even more infuriating when you discover the culprit is a child in your house who has taken 300 high resolution selfies using the “rainbow morph” app.

9. The Internet Is a Terrible Art Teacher

When my daughter asked “How do you draw a horse?”, I gave her my phone and let her Google “horse drawings” which yielded beautiful, artistic quality sketches of horses. Perfect! Not. She, being only seven years old, discovered that her own attempt at drawing a horse looked nothing like the ones drawn by professional artists and burst into tears. Note to self and seven year old: Horses drawn from imagination are always the best horses.

So, my resolution this year is to guide how my family engages with digital devices, but more importantly how we engage with each other. We’ve put tape over the kitchen table outlet, uninvited all Skype dinner guests and put limits on the times of day we each use different apps and features. We are still working on that Elton John tune but it’s getting there.

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