My sister in law and her family recently visited us from Perth. As presents for my two sons aged 6 and 9 years she gave them fabulous bouncing balls and…. an iPad mini each. Yes, she had Skyped us prior to the visit to check if we were ok with these very generous gifts and she explained that they were hand-me-downs from my niece and nephew who were upgrading. I had grappled with the whole thing for a few days after she made the call. It felt difficult to reconcile the entry of the iPads with my attempts to keep my sons’ device/screen time to a minimum. I also try and instil in my boys some sense of value for big presents such as iPads which in my opinion should be reserved for big birthdays and for when they are older and not for “just because” times. Anyway I accepted the offer. It wasn’t a simple matter for me. I had some real concerns but I thought we would have to find a way to manage my concerns and I knew that these generous gifts would be hugely appreciated by our boys. I was not mistaken. They couldn’t believe their luck. They received the iPad minis as the school holidays started. On their return to school I knew there would be the inevitable classroom “What did you do in the holidays?” report back and I considered sending them each to school with a massive sign that they would hold above their heads which would read, “During the school holidays I spent special time with my cousins, I hiked on the mountain, I swam in the sea, I ziplined and I stroked a cheetah. My mom and Dad ensured a wholesome, stimulating, adventurous and fun holiday for me and my brother”. Considering that it would be a big sign and their arms would tire easily, I did not send the signs. I feared that the real and enviable words that would excitedly pop out of their mouths in response to the “What did you do in the school holidays?” question, would be “I got my own iPad.” (They wouldn’t say hand-me-down and they wouldn’t even say MINI!) My fear was not baseless. I had had prior experience of presenting what I perceived to be “wholesome, stimulating, adventurous and fun activities” in the past only to have these reflected to me by the boys as nothing of the sort. An example: a few months ago I had dragged my two boys to a couple of art galleries on a Saturday morning. Admittedly they had come kicking and screaming but we ended up having a really good time together, promise. Anyway when I asked them after what I thought had been a greatly successful escapade into the world of art, to choose their best part of the morning, my eldest son, unhesitatingly replied, “The part where you couldn’t find parking.” And my youngest son, remarked “The part where we watched the TV at the one art gallery.” I tried hard to dig deep and believe that this rich experience had seeped in under their skin and they’d save their enthusing for a rainy day. Anyway the iPad mini mania situation reminded me of a few parental points that I have found helpful:
- Don’t get swallowed up by what the Jones’ are thinking and doing It is really unhelpful to try and worry about what other people think and how other people are doing things when it comes to parenting. It can be helpful to share and discuss ideas and challenges but ultimately I need to concentrate on what works for our family and set our own boundaries that reflect our values. For some people the fact that I even considered denying them the gifts will seem ridiculous. I needed to tap into what makes sense for our family in terms of how I want my children to be and how I want them to engage with the world. Ultimately, children pick up very quickly when we are faking it and doing something that doesn’t feel right to us.
- Set clear boundaries that work for your family We were able to gratefully accept the iPads and give them to the kids on our terms. For example, they cannot download any games without my husband or I punching in the secret password, that way we have control over what they are playing and doing on their iPads. (I can assure you that having to type the password all the time is most annoying but helps to ensure that they are not engaging in death and destruction on the side-lines – seems like a worthwhile annoyance.) The iPads sleep in our room. The children have limited time to play on their iPads. The iPads cannot replace social interactions – the iPad cannot come with us to restaurants for instance or go on playdates.
- You may not win the popularity contest We are still learning how to manage this as a family. The kids do not greet the boundaries with warmth and happy acceptance (imagine!) Even though my son has commented publicly regarding my device boundary setting, “This is the worst part about my mom,” they eventually come around to the fact that that’s the way things are in our house and there is a safety that comes with knowing where we stand.
- Things change I know that we will need to adapt the rules as our children grow older. We are finding our way and we discuss with the kids how things are working. When my husband and I are tired and want extra sleep (often) on the weekend, the rules do admittedly become a tad murky but the main rules stay in place. Remember, “I’ve got the Power (Snap!)” You will know when the iPads are starting to take control of your life, you will know when you need to reel things in. It’s important to know that even if you started out with certain rules, these rules may no longer be serving you and your family and as daunting and impossible as it may seem to alter the entrenched regime, you will be surprised at how easily everyone learns to adapt, if you are fair and strong in your resolve.
I’ll admit that of course there are moments (purposefully not an exact measurement of time) where my voice rises to extremely high pitched decibels with the words “If you don’t get off that thing right now, I’m taking it away for a week” sprouting forth. These are not proud moments. We don’t have things perfectly sorted but can you ever when it comes to parenting? We are constantly having to adapt to the new joys and challenges that growing children present to us. It is important that we remember we have choices and we can respond creatively to the challenges that we face. So, we as a family were faced with an unchartered situation and we chose to respond to the situation by thinking it through, thinking about what would work for us and make sense for us and we try to follow through at least most of the time. Turns out, neither of the two boys reported on the iPads as news in the classroom although it got some airtime on the playground. Still… probably best I didn’t send the signs.