Over the holidays Wifey and I made a pact.
“I’ll do it if you do it,” I raise one eyebrow conspiratorially.
“OK,” Wifey takes a deep breath and holds down one finger on her iPhone. “It’s done. Goodbye facial bookers.”
“My turn,” I duplicate the process and follow it up by throwing my head back and belting out a particularly long and maniacal laugh. Beyond deleting Facebook for two weeks, we made a concerted effort over the holidays to unplug. Santa brought me a ukulele and I strummed away teaching myself Jingle Bells and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. We played with Michael and Jane more than before and resisted the temptation to flip on the television to watch football.
However, we did use the iPad as a babysitter. With long car rides, two flights, and a trip on a train, the iPad became our crutch whenever we needed a minute of peace and quiet. I have mixed feelings about letting my kids tap away at the little screen. On one hand, we restrict games and activities to ones that are educational and build skills like phonics and sight word identification. On the other hand, as I watched them go from 2 feet away, to 1 foot, to even closer with their little pupils dilating, I had visions of drone-like obedience to some matrix-style demi-god. I wanted to rush over and yank the little iBoob-Tube away from them quoting the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.”
I take a deep breath. It’s okay. We live in Tahoe after all, and unplugging from technology is as simple as walking out your back door. Last weekend with visiting relatives we made our way to the top of Luther Pass in search of sledding and a good old-fashioned romp in the snow. It was pristine, exhilarating and generally awesome even with a post-holing traverse of the meadow while yanking along four kids in a toboggan and a spectacular airborne face-plant by Jane.
“It’s amazing how fast kids can get going on those saucer sleds,” Uncle Jack comments as tears explode from Jane’s three year-old face.
I nod in contemplative agreement.
Wifey rushes in to the rescue, “Are you going to be all right Jane?” She cradles our daughter and lets her eat some Apple Jacks.
“Un hunh,” Jane says with a mouthful of sugary cereal.
I smile at the scene knowing that she’s a tough little kid and at least we’re not huddled around inside staring at a screen.
Yet today Michael was home from preschool with a suspicious cough (suspicious because it was the same one his visiting cousin had a couple days ago). It was of course a working day for me: I’m on the phone while cooking chicken soup, frantically emailing during nap time and doing the preternatural parent juggle that we all know too well. So the iPad came out again. This way I could be assured of having just a bit more quiet time getting my thoughts together on the next project, drafting that response email to a customer, and handling just one more quote request before submitting to Daddy Daycare. Yeah, it’s a compromise that I’m willing to make. I don’t feel great about it, but I try to compensate by building legos and reading stories with him. Technology is part of our lives; being able to use it effectively is a prerequisite for participation in modern global culture. I want my children to be comfortable with the language and platforms that dictate how our society interconnects, but at three and four years old, I also want them to get more enjoyment from sledding than from watching movies.
Technology and Kids: To Do
1. Use only on special occasions.
2. Model good technology behavior, no Facebook scrolling at the dinner table.
3. Check out the awesome educational games out there; “Endless Reader” is genius.
4. Embrace boredom – kids will fill the empty spaces with all sorts of creative play; don’t rob them of that opportunity with a little screen.
Technology and Kids: Not to Do
1. Give them your apple ID and password.
2. Make the iPad a default “go to” whenever you need a minute.
3. Deny all technology.
4. Catch the Tahoe Flu.