• michelle

The ultimate punishment - a week without devices

Updated: Oct 2, 2018

Having my kids “lose” their iPads for a day or so is not unusual in our house. We do try to keep access to devices and technology a privilege and our kids know (for the most part) that there is a time and place to use them.

In some cases, they just don’t get access to their iPads because they haven’t behaved or helped as requested. In other cases, they have had their iPads taken away because they didn’t get off the device when asked or were using it without permission. In almost all cases, they consider it a harsh (lol) punishment to “lose” their devices. A few weeks ago, something happened that really brought to light the impact on behaviour that devices can have, so much so, that our kids noticed too.

It was a Wednesday. After school, the kids had stayed and played at the playground with their friends. My 7 year old had done her homework and my 8 year old just returned from a one hour Hip Hop class. By now, it was about 7:45pm and the kids asked if they could go on their iPad for 15 minutes before bed.

No problem! The kids were happy and getting along well so, why not? After a few minutes, they were able to find each other in the world they were playing together in and were quickly giggling about some of the game antics. They were sitting side by side and trading their iPads back and forth (my 7 year old can navigate some of the mazes better than my 8 year old - they take advantage of her gaming dexterity to get through challenges quicker). All was well.

And then it came time to get off the devices. I gave my usual 5 minute warning and then told them it was time to get ready for bed. They both turned off the game and took their devices over to the cabinet to plug them in to charge. They listened and there was no fighting over devices - the world was good.

And then, everything fell apart. One kid bumped the other going up the stairs. The other shoved back. They started arguing about whose PJs were whose (when you have two girls who are basically the same size - sometimes the laundry gets mixed up). Then the argument about how one of them spits when brushing their teeth - more jostling. Within 5 minutes - both girls were screaming incomprehensibly at each other and sobbing uncontrollably. Upstairs I went, yelling at both of them to get out of the bathroom and sit against the hallway wall. Through their tears, they were both yelling (now directed at me) about how the other one was so wrong and how they were innocent. I let some of it run its course and then stopped them.

It was amazingly clear that somehow, the transition between the virtual world and reality didn’t happen smoothly. Whereas they were kind and helpful in the game, in the real world, it was like they were arch enemies. There was so much hatred in the way they were screaming at each other and it was so out of proportion to what was going on.

Now yes, they are siblings and yes, siblings fight. Sure, maybe I was reading too much into the correlation between them being on their devices and their current behaviour but it wasn’t the first time I noticed this. I started to talk to my kids about the impact of devices on our brains. I started talking about how they are really good about knowing how to be healthy physically (exercise, what is healthy and what is junk food, personal hygiene) but did they know that I thought their devices were affecting their mental health? It was a pretty grown up conversation to be having with two little girls but I couldn’t help myself.

In conclusion, I told them that they needed to work on their mental health. Which meant that they were losing access to (most) technology for a week. No devices (tablets, access to our phones, etc.), no YouTube and Netflix. In other words - no individual, on demand entertainment. They could watch TV, if they watched what we were watching and if the TV was off, they weren’t to watch it.

And then the week went on. They played with their toys. They coloured. They did crafts. They made up dance routines. My 7 year old made sure to ask how many days left at least once a day but she knew that the devices were not an option. We had a two hour drive (both ways) to visit a friend which normally would mean two hours of device time (what had I done!). They brought books and card games and toys and amused themselves. They were creative and worked together to figure out what to do. Yes, they still argued, but whether is was because they were not as mentally consumed or they just feared that if they fought like they did, they would never get their devices back, they resolved their differences.

On day 5, while driving to dance, my 7 year old said from the back seat, “Mommy, you are right, my brain is happier.” And whether is was true or whether my little one just likes to impress me, it doesn’t matter - we can now have open conversations about the impact of devices on our health.

So have the weeks since been any different? Not much. They still want their devices but when it has been enough, they know why we want them off and I hope our little ‘mental health’ device break experiment will have a positive impact on the way they think about their device time. And now that summer is here, all new challenges are ahead! Let’s have some fun!

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