My husband and I did something capital C crazy a few weeks ago, completely on a whim. No parental strategy, no thoughtful discussion weighing pros and cons.
Nope, he just made a passing comment about how our kids’ screen time on their various mobile devices – a few hand-me-down iPhones and a Kindle received as a Christmas gift last year – drove him up the wall, and I agreed. So we rounded everything up and stashed them all away.
It’s crazy to me that taking away mobile devices is a crazy move in itself, but based on some of my friends’ reactions, we’re definitely take a ride through crazy town.
My brother, who has no children, told me I was depriving them time of building important skills necessary in our digital world. For half a second, I debated, but then I remembered that he plays some strategic Star Wars-themed game involving bases and armies and missions, and he’s on the same team as my oldest son. I’m pretty sure his comment was totally self-serving.
When we told them we were taking away all the phones and devices, they asked when they’d be getting them back. We’ve used “no phone time for a week” as a consequence for poor choices before, but this time is different. This isn’t a punishment. These devices have become their default, and we don’t like it.
Our oldest two slid into the habit of waking up early, creeping downstairs to grab their phone or tablet, and racing back to snuggle in bed with some obnoxious teeny bopper YouTube video or soccer highlights or a video game.
When they got home from school or various practices, they wanted to snack and zone out. We have a no screen rule at the dinner table, but they were asking to get right back on afterward.
Even when they were doing their various chores – running recyclables out to the bin, putting away folded laundry, filling up the dog bowls in the garage – they had a device in hand more times than not.
We called them out on it often, but phones are an insidious habit. It’s a tricky situation to navigate, because I use a laptop and phone all day, every day. As a freelance writer, this is how I earn my living.
I arranged my schedule to work from home, but running the show with four kids means I don’t have the luxury of dedicated working hours – I fit everything in when I can, which makes it seem like I’m never off the clock.
So I tell them the truth – this is my job, and these devices are part of how I work. I spend way more time on them than I would if I was just catching up on news and shopping.
We dropped this bomb a little over two weeks ago, and it’s been really interesting. I thought they’d be asking every five minutes to get these things back. They did once or twice, but then they lost interest and started doing stuff.
More reading, more coloring and drawing. More soccer in the backyard, even conditioning runs up and down the street and around the block. They’re playing high-energy, complicated games together, the kind of imaginative stuff that kids dream up when they’re bored and need something to do.
It’s all the stuff that they were doing before, but only when I freaked out and told them they were off the phones for the rest of the day. Now, with the phones and devices not even an option, they’re finding other ways to fill their time.
Our oldest two both get time on the computer for homework, but they aren’t hanging out on there longer than their allotted time. We’ve just found it’s a lot easier to cut out phone/device time altogether than to try and police it.
So call me Captain Crazy, I guess, but this was a solid decision. I saw something the other day, an article about the sex mode in Minecraft. For a second, I got all freaked out because that’s one of the games my son plays and what in the hell?! And then I remembered – we don’t have to deal with that problem right now.
Obviously, this won’t last forever. At some point, they’re going to be old enough that the decision to ban their phones and devices will actually be a problem itself. And so we’ll come up with realistic ground rules and discuss internet safety and sex modes, gah, and we’ll deal with things as they come.
But for now, our nine, seven and five year old just get to be kids – the kind who invent their own complicted games , run so hard they fall down laughing, build forts and elaborate puzzles, go on marathon reading runs with their favorite book series.
The kind who don’t automatically reach for a phone or a tablet for entertainment. And man, I really love that.
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