There is a little Luddite living inside of me. This is ironic given that I am basically an academic technologist. But there was a time when I eschewed gadgets. I thought Kindle was going to ruin literature. I used a pen to take notes. I even carried a little hardback journal around with me for random musings. It was almost like I was being a little bit hipster before being hipster was cool.
Today, I am typing the draft of this blog on my iPad in Evernote, which will sync to the cloud, so that I can access it anywhere and on any device.
But that inner Luddite is beginning to stir once more. I have children, and like many parents, I struggle to keep their “screen time” under control, a job which is getting harder and harder. They have devices for a number of reasons. My oldest has a smartphone because there was a time when she would get home before I would, and we do not have a landline. Then she got an iPad as a Christmas present from grandma. I was pleased because it kept her off my computer whenever she had to log in to Google Classroom. My middle child also got an iPhone this year because he wanted to roam around town on his bike, and even though I did a lot of that when I was a kid, the ability for us to call him (and track him) was a compromise I worked out with my wife. And then my youngest got my old 5c, because he would ask to play games on his siblings’ devices, and then he would “mess up” their village or monster farm or something.
Lately my children have been fighting me when I have tried to take away their devices. I mean that literally, I have had to pull them out of their hands while they struggled to retain it. (I was going to make them die.) One of them recently punched me for it. Yeah…
I do not take this sort of thing lying down. There have been steadily increasing consequences, from 24 hour groundings, to 48 hour electronics fasts, to a week, and now my two oldest are 10 days into a 16 day screen-time fast, a fast which has been extend to 19 days for one and 30 days for another. One has repeatedly violated the rule. The other has violated it with impunity.
What I have noticed is that when they are not trying to sneak electronics time, or argue with me about the injustice of this restriction, their behavior is much, much better. In some respects, it is like I have different children. I am no psychologist. I cannot tell you exactly what is going on in their little brains when they play slither.io again and again. I can tell you that when they do not have their noses in their electronics, they fight less, they play outside more, and they are just overall calmer and quieter.
There have been fewer glowing screens in my house. It started with the television. One morning I noticed that the screen had been cracked. The boys had been goofing off in the living room the night before, but they insisted it must have been the cat. Whatever. It remains cracked over two months later. I have not replaced it yet. It is one of fewer glowing screens in my house.
The television and the electronics fasts is reminding me of the days when I did not have a smartphone. It has reactivated the part of me that likes paper, pen, and the kind of books you can hold in your hand.
But I know I am plugged into the Matrix. So much of my life lives in the cloud right now. Evernote has become an extension of my brain. My kids also have to get online to do their homework. Much of Kyla’s schoolwork lives in Google Classroom. I use similar services for my students.
There is no realistic way for us to get out of the cloud for us, but there has to be something I can do. I put limits on screen time, which just causes fights. And it seems like it does not take much screen time at all (whether it is TV or a mobile device) to turn my children into little monsters. What can I do?