Sunday, January 3, 2016

I Give Zero F*cks

There's always a lot of talk about regulating screen time, how you shouldn't let your kid stew in front of the TV all day and so on and so forth.  And I agree with that, for the most part: watching TV all day every day is a terrible waste of time.  But playing with a tablet?  That's a little more nuanced.  Most people agree that it's impossible to keep a kid away from them, and that a strategic retreat is needed:  they set limits (30 minutes) or take them away for not doing chores or what-not.

Me?  I give zero f*cks about whether kidlet wants to spend his entire day playing with the damn iPad.  And here's why: I trust him to be smart enough to know when he's bored.  My only rules are:  1) no screens when eating (this is a family-wide thing, and it applies to Karel as well) and 2) no crying or whining when I tell him to put it away (i.e., when we need to go out, or when it's time for dinner).  If he does, then he loses the iPad for the rest of he day and the entire day thereafter.  It's a simple system that doesn't involve timers or some arbitrary limit.  And it works.  Yes, there were a few fits the first few days when he got his own iPad with new games, but after he worked out the rules for himself he's been pretty good about it and I don't have to fight with him to put it down.

I'm sure someone out there is having a heart attack reading this right now.  But here's the thing: after the first few days, when he spent close to 4 hours watching YouTube movies and playing with his apps, his using the iPad dropped, the same way it did with my phone. And now he spends maybe 30 minutes a day playing with the thing before he decides to pull out his cars or rediscover his "microbots" (hematite stones carved in a shape that resembled the microbots seen in Big Hero 6).  Or he'll ask us to fill the bathroom sink so that he can play with the water.  Or he'll get his crayons out of the closet.  Or ask me to take him to the playground.  Or...well, you get the idea: kid stuff.

Kids aren't stupid, and they'll work out when they've had enough.  Of course a new tablet, filled with fun apps, is going to absorb all of their attention, but it won't last.  It can't last--they just don't have the attention span or the ability to sit still that long.  It may take a little longer before they figure out their own limits, but there is a life beyond a tablet.  And of course you can use time with the tablet as a carrot as opposed to a stick, or set a time limit. But that doesn't teach them their own personal limits--it reinforces the idea that good things are scarce in this world so they need to have all the good things, all at once. And I know Freud has long since been discounted as a quack, but you have to wonder whether the (uniquely American) inability to moderate has something to do with this.

I wonder when we stopped listening to kids telling us what they want/need.  I mean, sure, they don't always know what's best for them, so it's up to us to make suggestions and make sure they know the rules.  But discipline isn't about teaching kids blind obedience to authority; it's about providing them with an appropriate frame in which to live their own lives. And that's the key, the "living their own lives" part, that I want for my kid.  It's not his job to make me happy.  His job is to grow up, my job is to give him what he needs to do that.  And part of that is really listening to him, accepting that sometimes that means pears and olives for breakfast instead of oatmeal, or taking him to the HEMA for a lunch date, just because.

I'm an atheist, but I do have faith:  that kidlet knows himself, and that as long as we continue to provide him with a bedrock of unconditional love and mutual respect, he'll turn out all right.  I wonder when people lost this faith--and what it will take for them to find it again. 

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