Two years ago, Sean surprised me with a nice shiny new iPad, and the whole family was super excited to check it out. Fairly quickly, however (read: almost immediately) the kids hijacked it. I use my laptop for almost all of my work, and can answer emails and check facebook on my phone, so I didn't really notice that I never used it anymore. It filled up with kids apps and selfies they would take, snapshots from the games they were playing. We brought it on long car trips to keep them entertained, even Jack played little toddler games on it. Finn, in particular, got pretty attached. I monitored his usage, of course, and since I had a password that he didn't know I had to approve any app purchases and made sure they were appropriate (i.e. no "shooting games" or anything not too grown up). It wasn't long though before he was totally addicted to playing with the iPad. He would get up in the morning, sneak downstairs, and start playing it. I have to admit, I usually let it slide because he was nice and quiet, playing what was usually an "educational" type game, and I was busy bustling around making breakfast and school lunches. But then he wanted to play it after school, before bedtime, any time in between he could squeeze in at least a few minutes he would ask to play it (here's a couple nice little family photos, just Finn, Levy, Jack...and the iPad. Notice how Levy is looking directly at the iPad in both photos? Great...).
I started using the iPad as both reward and punishment for Finn, if he was good he would get more minutes, if he was not good, no iPad for the day. I began thinking to myself how I wished we didn't even HAVE an iPad in the first place because of all the stress it seemed to cause. It irked me to no end that he would rather choose to stay inside some days playing the iPad instead of going outside (I would usually force him to go outside anyway), and even though I liked the downtime it created for both of us, it had just turned into something too big to manage, and I knew I had to do something major about limiting his use. Even Levy had started a nice little habit of her own, and the two of them would argue about who used it last, who used it the most, which one was going to play it next. If things got too heated and I would stash it away they would sulk off, leaving me wishing once again that we didn't even have one in the first place.
And then, one day, something magical happened. It broke. It had fallen plenty of times and had a few minor cracks at that point, but this one last time as Jack inched it off the ottoman, it slipped onto the hardwood floor and the lights went out forever. Of course the kids were devastated at first and begged me to get it fixed. Even I was somewhat on edge with it being broken, wondering what Finn would do without his little games? Then I googled how to fix one and how much it would cost and it got put on the back burner. Finn wanted to know if we were going to get a new one, and I just couldn't justify spending an extra five hundred bucks right before the holidays, especially since the "Jack Threat" was still pretty high and a brand new one would be just at risk of getting broken. I also was curious to see what would happen with it being no longer an option, and I was secretly relieved that it was finally just dead for good. So that was that. It was gone, finito, say bye bye to the iPad kiddies.
There was moping in the days that followed, some far off ideas about how to pay for a new one, reasons why we should get a new one (all supplied by the kids of course), even some offers to sell some less popular toys in the hopes of buying a new one.
It wasn't too long afterward, however, that they simply forgot about it. After all that iPad obsession, all that time spent brokering iPad playing time, all of those little arguments over the unfairness about not getting to play more, they just simply forgot. It was as if it never even existed. Instead, Finn ventured outside and down into the playroom more and more, playing with his army men and Legos, sitting at the dining room table drawing. I got him a journal and a scribble pad which he started carrying around with him (I will admit at first he started making "paper iPads" with the scribble paper), and just like that his screen time went from a sore point between us to nonexistent.
It left me wondering what the actual need was with this thing, does a seven year old need an iPad? The obvious answer is of course not. Did he want one? Sure, I bet most seven year olds would, but in the absence of one he hardly cared at all, so how much actual want was there in the first place? The person who needed it was me, I needed it to help keep his attention when I was busy, to entertain Jack while we were on car trips, it was all too easy to say "Go play the iPad", problem solved, for the time being. It became a nice little parenting crutch for me, and even though little battles would spring up because of it I was willing to overlook those due to the ease and spare moments it afforded me. It turned into a problem because I let it become a problem, and I should have cut if off before that point, but I didn't want to take away that magic button it gave me.
We recently drove down to see my father, a little less than three hours away, totally an iPad worthy trip in the past, but this time we did it sans electronics, just the kids and me. No DVD players, no iPad, nothing. I gave them crayons and paper, juice boxes and snacks, tossed those all in the back and said "We'll be there in three hours". And you know what? It worked just as well as it used to with the iPad. Instead of the fights about who got to play the iPad next there were minor scuffles over which color crayon was used by whom. And I was of course subjected to the usual road trip comments like "Are we there yet?" and "I'm bored" but those happened with the electronics as well. As of right now I have no plans to replace our broken iPad unless an iPad Fairy flies into our house one night and leaves me a new one under my pillow (that's a real thing, right?). And although the kids are like a moth to a flame any time they see one in the Verizon store at the mall, I imagine the next time one is bought it will be with their own, hard earned money. As for me, I'm glad the spell was broken early in my house,