It remains to be seen which aspects of my parenting prove to be truly disastrous. Charlotte may never get a job because of my failure to insist that she wear anything but shorts and T-shirts or brush her hair (or she could just become an academic). There is a very good chance Lawson will have no teeth and an enlarged bladder. They are probably both going to have back trouble from sleeping on the floor (their choice, I did buy them beds). And diabetes.
But my worst failing is definitely my substandard policing of the dreaded Screen Time, that existential threat to the human capacity for focus, speech, relationship, critical thought, or even basic brain activity. I do think there is something to the experts' alarm, although they get pretty hyperbolic about it, and anyway, no one can really conduct properly controlled experiments on parenting outcomes. I'm betting all those sickly kids who weren't breastfed were always going to be sickly, bless their hearts. But I know from my own experience with my beloved iPhone the addictive and seductive power of the screen. And I feel dumber. And I don't like it, because I am still smart enough to know that I used to be smarter. So I can't quite roll my eyes at the parenting experts on this one.
I've been through various systems of limiting screen time to include:
- Set screen hours. For instance, telling them they can use screens from 7-8 am, 5-6 pm. But Charlotte regularly sleeps in past 7 and so this is SO NOT FAIR, and when I try to find another time for her to have screen time, Lawson ends up watching over her shoulder and then THAT is so not fair and then I just get tired and go eat chips.
- Popsicle sticks in a can. Each stick represents a half hour of screen time, and they get so many for the week. But then they start watching shows that are only 20 minutes, and that is not a full stick and so it's SO NOT FAIR to count it for an entire stick. So then I fix that and make each stick 20 minutes, but I still have the problem of figuring out how much screen time TWO SEPARATE CHILDREN are using every day. I get to the end of the day and try to remember who did what when. My brain hurts and I go look at Cape Town real estate online.
- Go tech-free every Sunday. So, this is a great plan, because I figure if we can do this for an entire day, the rest of the week probably doesn't matter too much. But here's how it breaks down. First of all, it's SUNDAY. As in, a day we really don't want to wake up at 6 am. Problem is, Lawson wants to wake up at 6 am EVERY DAY OF HIS LIFE AND EVEN IN HEAVEN. Now, if allowed, he bounds out of bed, sprints down the hall, grabs a device and may actually leave us alone. This is not 100%, however. Sometimes he still feels the need to inform us of his whereabouts, as if we are going to wake up, see his bed empty and immediately think Jesus has returned, and in ironic twist, the boy who makes farting noises in church is the only one who made the cut. Sometimes he doesn't go for his devices anyway, he comes to get in bed with us just to chat. At which point we begin begging him to play a video game. On a Sunday, which is No-Tech Sunday, as Charlotte informs us when she gets up at 9 am, enraged to find that a rule has been broken somewhere in the universe. Just go crap all over gravity why don't you. Then she asks if she can have tech on No-Tech Sunday. We say No, it's now too late, which is of course SO NOT FAIR. And that is just the first few hours of No-Tech Sunday. The rest of the day consists of 15 minute intervals of children finding something to do with 45 minutes in between of them writhing on the floor in something akin to heroin withdrawal. The other option is to go on a Fun Family Outing, and you know how I feel about those.
- Use Parental controls on the devices to cut them off or limit the use of certain features. This would be an ideal solution--they have these great kindle fires with a kid zone and an adult zone, and in the kid zone you can do all kinds of controls. But turns out the Minecraft packs (and honestly Minecraft is one of the better things they do on a screen) they need are only available on the adult side, so I had to install their Minecraft on that side, which only has some parental controls, so that I can make sure they don't watch porn but I can't really limit their use of various non-educational apps without getting a computer science degree. Plus, even if they can't use their kindle fires, they can still play the Wii and watch movies on Netflix. This once again involves me paying attention to what they are doing at all times, and I get tired and go lay in bed and play Catan on MY device.
- Pray to God the experts are WRONG ALL WRONG about all the screen time devastation and just surrender completely.
- Feel guilty and declare a "reset" and proceed through every one of these attempts yet again.
This is what I want. I want my TV, Wii, and their tablets all synched to a timer in the sky that calculates how much combined screen time they have each had and then when they have reached their limit for the day, all the electronics magically disappear without involving me at all. Which still won't work because there are two kids and they use some of the same electronics but not at the same time...Oh I know. The timer in the sky keeps track of what each of them have their eyes on, and when they have had their eyes on a screen for a certain amount of time, they magically lose their eyesight for the rest of that day. That way they can't eavesdrop on the other one's screen time. Problem solved.
I know what those of you who don't have kids and those of you who do have kids but who don't have any mental illness or who just have super human powers are thinking--Just lay down the law! Tell them this is how it is! Get rid of the wii and the tablets! Let them writhe on the floor!
Those of you who aren't parents are just going to have to shut up on this one, and pretty much every other judgement you have about parenting, because you cannot possibly know what it is like to fight this brutal war of attrition day in and day out. Those of you who do have kids but don't have my brain may have a case--I could definitely do better, anxiety disorder or not. I will concede that.
But the screens are my friend, y'all. They give me room to breathe, to cook, to write, to think interesting thoughts. I love my kids, but I need them to leave me alone for periods of time that are longer than what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for screen usage. It's a quandary. The other quandary is that my brain does not do logistics of any kind. ANY KIND. When confronted with the task of tallying up what my two kids are doing for how long while I am also making grocery lists and doctor's appointments and arranging babysitters and trying to remember why I walked into this room--my brain says, WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE HORRIBLE, BADLY ORGANIZED DEATHS BECAUSE WE CANNOT DO THE LOGISTICS. This is what my brain says.
Bottom line: It's not my kids who are addicted to screen time, it's me. And I do think it's a chemical addiction, too. Too bad there's not rehab, because that sounds really relaxing.