Sunday, May 27, 2012

The iPhone/iPad Parenting Crutch

It’s a little known fact, but there was no parenting prior to the invention of iPhones. It’s true.
Before the invention of these smart little devices, parenting was just deemed too difficult and hard so no one had kids until the iPhone was invented. Really, no lie.
I mean, what could a parent have done while waiting for a newborn to fall asleep? I mean they HAD to check emails and/or try to get three stars on each Angry Birds level, right?
And what would a parent have done during those brief, 5-15 minute random lulls between chasing, cleaning, changing, and breaking up fights over the Snickle-Fritz ZhuZhu Pet, BUT post to Facebook and catch up on several Words With Friends games?
And lord knows that a parent wouldn’t have dared to enter a restaurant or, worse yet, attempt to travel, without a smart phone loaded up with kids games and shows.
It just wasn’t done.
It was impossible.
Thus, no one had kids before the iPhone.
I mean, what was a parent supposed to do without an iPhone? What, actually pay more attention to their kid?
For parents, the iPhone is a bit of a loaded gun… or perhaps more a loaded slingshot ready to spray angered fowl all over your glass house of piggies. It’s a fantastic addition to the parents’ world, yet a very dangerous one, because it’s far too easy to immediately go to your phone at every available opportunity – and not just as a distraction for the kids, but for you as well.
Some of my own personal iPhone lows:
  • Checking emails between pushing the girls on swings – You push a kid, read an email, give them a BIG PUSH, type half a reply, answer said kid about why you aren’t pushing any more, give them a push, type rest of email, push kid, send email, etc.
  • Playing Scrabble while the girls play in the tub – You’ve washed them, you’ve played with them, you’re just waiting for them to finish up. What else to do while sitting on their toilet, just ticking down the ‘five minutes!’ ultimatum you gave them to play a little while longer in the tub, than check in on a Scrabble game or two.
  • Weekend mornings – Simply too easy to continue the weekday habits of checking email, then looking up the weather, then checking on a Scrabble game, then checking Facebook, as two adorable girls in PJ’s sit and play on the floor without you.
  • Used the phone as a babysitter – Frazzled with trying to balance the work necessary for a home/work/yard/personal project and the demands of little kidlets, it’s just too easy to hand a kid a phone and say, “Here!”
My wife and I generally do a pretty good job of limiting the girls’ ‘screen time’ (including TV, computer, tablet, or phone) to one hour per day. But there are those days of course where you’re just too tired or frustrated or busy (or… ahem… hung-over…) to try to care any more. And then out comes the iPhone – or, more dangerous still now, the iPad.
Basically these things have become too much of a crutch, a diversion from real parenting. And it’s getting pretty scary out there, in my book.
While Sally and I will offer up the phones to the girls for them to play some reasonably educational games at a restaurant while we’re waiting for the food to come out (and only then – and ONLY if the girls are getting fussy or are fighting), we’ve seen on multiple occasions parents who bring iPads into the restaurant for the kids to watch movies throughout the entire dinner. There sits a family of three, the parents chatting away while their daughter stares glaze-eyed into the mighty device, watching ‘Cars’ for, perhaps literally, the 67th time.
Last week I saw a woman at Target walking around the store with a shopping cart, with her kid sitting in the bottom of the basket watching a movie on an iPad.
When you throw the iPad into the mix, it becomes truly scary to think about the access kids now have to backlit screens, especially with those parents that just don’t care to limit the amount of TV their kid watches in a day (and we’ve met them, even once having neighbors whose TV would go on the minute the kids woke up, flashing cartoons or kids movies all day long, until the kids went to bed). Conceivably, those kids could get up in the morning and immediately start watching a screen, hop into the SUV where another movie is playing on another screen, get hauled around Target in a shopping cart watching a screen, back to the screen in the SUV, then back to their house to watch the giant flat panel screen on the wall.
What kind of IDD (Imagination Deficit Disorder) is that kid going to have when s/he grows up? Just how socially inept will s/he be? And will they, in turn, someday be raising kids with iGlasses, providing nonstop animated diversions flickering in front of the eyes of this next generation as they go about their entire day, from waking up to going to bed?
The key of course, like so many things, is moderation.
We always first offer up other things for the girls to do (coloring, crafts, getting outside, playing with toys, etc.) before we go to the screens. But even then, I’ll admit that we probably go to the screens a little too often. Actually, as I write this I realize that we probably go to the screens to often for ourselves, quickly whipping out the phones ourselves to ‘just check something’ (me especially) too frequently. 
It’s just far too tempting to just ‘check in’ on work, or to email a friend, or to see what your buddies are doing on Facebook, when it’s right there in your pocket. And, as one of the challenges of parenting is feeling like you’ve lost your identity as an adult, it’s too easy to use the phone to try to stay connected to your adult life.
So, some suggestions that I’ll present here to you… that are really, frankly, probably more reminders to me:
  • Leave the phone in another room. Stop just immediately putting it into your pants pocket and instead leave it somewhere out of reach – especially on the weekends, at dinnertime, etc.
  • Think before you say yes to a screen. What did I do as a kid when I was fussy or bored or starving at a restaurant waiting for food that was taking FOREVER? I didn’t play Angry Birds, that’s for sure. To this end, make sure that you have other options with you, like drawing paper and crayons, travel games, books (remember those?), or a portable craft (Lillian, our 7 year old, now likes to sometimes bring her friendship bracelet maker with her). [Note to Self: create a little bag of basic craft supplies for the girls to have at restaurants and elsewhere, then just leave it in the car.]
  • Set restrictions for you too. While our girls get only an hour ‘screen time’ per day, I think I need to do a better job of setting restrictions on my own iPhone use. [Another Note to Self: maybe after working hours I only check it once per night (and not right before bed).] 
  • When you’re with your kids, be WITH your kids. Put them first and make sure you interact with them. Play with them. Imagine with them. Make up stories and plays together. Go for a hike, or even just a walk around the block. When in Target, make up a guessing game or play ‘I Spy’. And just generally make sure the iPhone is the last option – for you both. 

The Mouths of Babes...

Lillian told a joke at dinner: 'High school is a school that kids go to get HIGH. They get HIGH and then they go to SCHOOL. Get it?'

Little does she know...