No, I Really Don’t Own a TabletPosted April 2, 2019
By Jenny Kleppe
It all happened one day at my daughter’s gymnastics class, another event where my then three-year-old son was taken along for an activity that did not involve him. As usual, I brought along his backpack full of books, toy cars, and a Magna Doodle. I noticed early in the class another dad watching us, as I alternately read a novel and watched my daughter’s not-quite coordinated attempts at somersaults and cartwheels. My son was engrossed in his take-along bag.
Eventually it must have become too much for the father, as he moved to sit next to me and asked, “How do you manage that? My youngest would be begging for the iPad or my phone way before now!” I responded, “Well, it probably helps that we don’t own a tablet.” Immediately, two other moms sitting near us whipped around to join the conversation. “What?” asked one. “We have two!” exclaimed the other. “One for each kid. It’s the only way I get any peace. Then you must give them your phone!?”
I am not sure that anyone believed me when I reassured them that, no, I really don’t own a tablet and only under the direst circumstance do my children get to touch my phone. I do not have any apps for children on my phone. I do not have Netflix on my phone.
A caveat to this blog: I am not the “all-screens-are-evil” hippie that these parents may have assumed me to be. My children watch cartoons on weekend mornings, when they are sick, or when they just need a short break but don’t nap anymore. Almost all are shows that can be found on PBS. We frequently take five hour road trips where my children must agree on a movie to watch during the second half of the drive. We love a great family movie night complete with pizza or popcorn. However, my husband and I expect our children to entertain themselves, observe their surroundings, or engage in conversation with us while waiting for something. This is something we have expected from day one. This is something we try and model to them whenever possible. That, I believe, is the real kicker.
In a restaurant, we play “I Spy” games, or “I’m thinking of an animal,” or make up stories as a family. At the grocery store, the kids are responsible for holding the list, helping remember what is on it, and deciding which kinds of fruit to buy. We bring books to the doctor’s office or children’s lessons and let our children see us reading instead of letting them see us playing on our phones. As our young children become more literate, easy word searches have become my new favorite portable activity to keep them quiet and settled when necessary.
Screen time is not my favorite conversation these days. It seems that we all recognize the negative effects it can have on young developing minds, yet it is often treated as a necessary evil to “get through” something or to have peace and quiet. We are stressed adults, and do deserve a break and a bit of quiet. But we might have to wait to go on our screens until after bedtime. Then, by all means, break out whatever device strikes your fancy. And of course, there are many children with special needs and challenging behaviors who use devices on a daily basis for communication, for token reward systems, and for educational purposes. I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all model.
What I’m encouraging is mom and dad to put down their phones. Put away the tablet. You do not habitually need that crutch. Strike up a conversation. Sing if you have to! (Or in my case, because, why not?) Pick up a book or a coloring book. Let them see you doing the things you want them to be doing. I promise you will be rewarded for your efforts.