Last month, we were leaving for vacation and were en route to the Long Island Ferry. There was heavy traffic on I-95. I looked over at my wife and asked, “Did you pack the kids’ iPads?” She looked at me, with panic in her eyes. “No, did you?”
I’m embarrassed to admit that I was wigging out. What would we do when the kids were bored? How would we have any downtime for ourselves? We were going to a family member’s beach house, with lots of unstructured time ahead of us.
On the ferry to Long Island, where the kids would usually be absorbed in their screens, we actually talked. (And ahem Daddy had a little computer time to work on a project that I’ll be announcing soon). We hung out with my nieces and nephews for the weekend. They had their devices, which they shared amicably. Mostly, however, the kids just played in the pool. When the cousins left, so did the personal electronics. (In the interests of full disclosure, we did let the kids watch TV. This was pretty limited as the place we were staying did not have access to Netflix).
A few days later, my seven year old said, “Vacation is better without iPads because I’m having more fun.” Of my two children, he is not the one I would have expected to endorse such a thought. That dude loves his screen time.
I tried to restrict my screen time as well. I’d like to think that I put it aside much of the time. But reaching for my phone has become so ingrained that I don’t even always notice it. My seven year old asked me, “Daddy, what do you love better: me, or your phone?” That hurt, but it was a wake up call1. On a lighter note, he also noted that “Mommy has a crush on Instagram.”)
We are not zealots about limiting screen time, but we are more strict that many of our friends. No video games on week days during the school year, although a little TV once the homework is done is OK. We are pretty lax on the weekends, but now I’m rethinking it. We’ve tried “digital sabbaths”, otherwise known as “screen free days”, but they can be pretty impractical. Sometimes, you need to look up the number to the pizzeria.
Our parents didn’t have to contend with smartphones, social media, or online gaming. There was a recent article called “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” which is worth a read. Certainly, this technology is changing our children, as it is changing us. There are good things as well— community, new ways of expressing ourselves, and the benefits of having all of the world’s information at our fingertips.
I’ve written a few articles on the blog about technology as it relates to sleep:
- Why you should keep all technology out of your child’s bedroom (and probably your own)
- Vamping, Poor Sleep, and Social Media in Teens. Many of my teenage patients describe being on their phones with friends in the middle of the night. It’s more common than you think.
- How going on a light diet can help with insomnia
I feel like I’m fumbling to figure these things out. In our family, we are not planning on getting our kids smartphones or allowing social media until they are in high school. My friends with older kids think that this will be impossible. I’d love to know how you are dealing with screen time and social media. Hit reply and let me know your thoughts.
- It wasn’t until later that I realized that he may have been pulling my leg. Later in the week he asked me whether I loved him more than A) corn on the cob B) Reading the paper C) coffee. After option C, I told him not to push his luck. ↩︎