I recently took my 2 year old and my 4 year old girls to Disneyland, and not to brag, but we crushed it. We powered through with no naps for 12 hours a day and my fitbit said we walked 14 miles in two days. Best workout ever. We also got this app that calculated historic ride times and spit out an itinerary and we had basically no waiting. Why thank you, we will just walk right onto the Cars ride. Crushed it.
Yet…something disturbing happened while we were enjoying the Happiest Place on Earth. Let me set the scene. We went to the Disney Junior show, which was Mickey and Minnie dancing and singing about with Doc McStuffins and her pals, and every so often, bubbles or confetti or something fell from the ceiling and the kids would go nuts and jump up in joy. That’s not the disturbing part. This kid in front of me and my little girls was in a trance the whole time, playing a game on an iPhone. He didn’t even look up when confetti fell down, he just brushed it off his screen and continued playing. The parents were focusing on their little one, who did seem to be entertained by DANCING MICE AND CONFETTI RAIN.
Can you imagine what this kid’s teacher will have to do to grab his attention when he is in school? I so badly wanted to take a photo of the scene, because it was comically horrible. Since taking photos of other people’s kids is frowned upon, I drew this crappy picture to show you all:
Now I know there’s been blog posts and articles all over the place about the perils of kids and technology, but this is not one of those posts. I like technology. I think when used well, it can enhance learning and make life easier. But I want to propose a radical parenting plan. It’s called MODERATION.
This profound plan takes cues from the diet world. Instead of crazy diets that go to the extreme (Eat only what the dinosaurs ate! No sugar ever!), you just consume in moderation. There is a time and place for most foods. Cupcakes? Appropriate at birthdays. Not appropriate all day every day.* Coffee? Essential. Just don’t drink 2 giant pots a day. Want a burger? Have one, just not one a day, and maybe try one that isn’t chummed out from hundreds of different animals from different locations across the globe and yet somehow is still called “beef.”
My revolutionary Tech Moderation Plan (TMP) does not take things to next level craziness:
Start with yourself and work your way down to your kids.
If your kids see you checking your emails while waiting at a red light**, constantly scrolling through social media, or responding to every ping your phone makes**, they are learning that this is how one manages technology. As a school psychologist, I have had many children draw pictures of their families, and include drawings of their parents chatting on their phones and ignoring them. Kids notice. They care that your attention is divided. They are learning that tech pulls away attention and connection. Just yesterday, at my kid’s swim class, a parent was so busy on her phone she didn’t notice her kid swam across the whole pool for the first time. The little girl looked up at her parent with a beaming smile that quickly vanished when she couldn’t get her parent’s attention. Sad.
Small thing you can do? Turn off push notifications and pick a few times per day to check and respond. Let your child know that you are purposefully setting aside time to do this so they can learn that tech has a time and place and is not all day every day.
Teach “time and place” rules and set limits.
Everywhere you turn, there’s a conflicting article on how much time, and what kind of screen time your kids should be having in a day. One article says passive time like TV is better than active screen time like games. Another says active time is better than passive time. Yet another: All screens are evil.
Hey! How about a little of passive and active screen time, but not too much? My kids watch 20-minute educational shows and then at dinner time they talk about the solar system, count their strawberries like The Count (ah ha ha!), or tell me how Daniel Tiger used his self-control. My eldest learns Spanish vocabulary on an interactive iPad game she plays every once in a while. No big whoop. I’m not going to feel mom guilt about it anymore. That’s the beauty of my TMP system.
Practicing screen-ectomies teaches something.
Every tried to turn off Sesame Street to get the family to go the store and seen a toddler fling herself on the ground like she’s just been stabbed in the heart? I have. It was yesterday. And you know what? I just used it as a teachable moment about transitions. Sometimes you have to stop doing the fun thing to do a less fun thing. That is life. I acknowledged her disappointment, gave her a road map for how we were going to get through it together, and we got to the store. Would it be easier to throw a Peak-a-Boo Elmo app on my phone to get her in the car without a fuss? Yes. But I try not to, because you can pay the piper now or later. Better to teach transitioning off screens when she is small than when she is a teenager and more crafty and entrenched in her ways.
Look. I’m not a perfect parent. Having a Ph.D. in child development does not exempt me from being so tired or frustrated with my whining or tantruming children that I am tempted to use a screen to placate them. But I generally don’t.
Sorry if it sounds judgey, and there are probably nuanced situations when it’s okay, but just don’t shove an iPad in front of your kid who is fussing because he has to wait a second. I see it mostly in restaurants, when a kid starts to get restless and the adults want to have a peaceful dinner, so they prop the kid up with some screen time and have their wine. Do they deserve a peaceful dinner and glass of wine? Yes, parenting is no joke exhausting. But what is the message to your child? You don’t have to experience discomfort or learn to wait patiently for things because you can just distract yourself. In the long run, having patience and being present, even when unpleasant, is something that is a life skill.
Try out my non-patented TMP system. Let me know how it goes. Until then, I’m getting off this screen to play with my girls.
*One of my proudest parenting moments was when I overheard my then 3-year-old daughter in her room singing, “C is for cookie, but only on birthdays and special occasions…” [parent wipes tear of joy off face]