Today marks one year since the current pandemic was declared. Before Geo’s preschool closed for those two weeks which turned into months, he had never used a computer, tablet, or smartphone, with the exception of watching cartoons on my phone during plane rides and road trips. He did watch mostly Russian cartoons on our “smart” tv which didn’t have regular channels but could play youtube and netflix, but his dad and I had been adamant about keeping him off gadgets and devices for as long as possible.
Enter zoom and distance learning, and he can now operate a laptop well enough to type in what he wants to watch, skip ads, open game sites and play, complete school assignments, and download apps on my phone. He even has a classmate who is his “friend” on the gaming platform roblox, although they’re not savvy enough to really play together and chat, but I can see where this is going.
I wasn’t ready.
And I blame covid. I blame the response to covid. The closing of schools, the eagerness for connection and “not falling behind” which translated into parents actually encouraging screen time. Sitting our kids in front of the computer and hoping that they’ll learn. Stressing teachers’ energy and resources to teach. Realizing a difficult year has flown by, and it’s taken such a toll on our kids.
Becoming well versed in using technology can certainly be beneficial to growing minds, but at my son’s age, it has been very challenging. His dad and I take full responsibility for our weaker moments of allowing him to play video games longer than necessary. But I also feel like it’s not entirely our fault. It was the mathletics and khan academy apps introduced to him in kindergarten that showed him the concept of playing a game online, and after he’d finish a short assignment, he’d want to play more. He liked games with driving. I myself searched for a free driving game he could play, and showed him how. I myself led him into that addictive vortex. And it is now on me to enforce the limits and boundaries he desperately needs while navigating this new dimension.
We have rules for no gaming before school in the mornings. We often break them. Today he threw a fit when it was time to turn off the game. Didn’t want to get dressed and go. I lost my patience and raised my voice. His dad declared no screen time for the whole weekend. There were tears. Followed by calm discussions in the car. I told Geo, you are an emotionally intelligent kid and I am so proud of you. Because he was able to say, “I feel sad that I can’t play video games.”
“We know you enjoy it, so mama and papa don’t want to take it away from you,” I told him. “But we must practice moderation, or we can’t use these things at all...”
Like I said, I wasn’t ready. He’s only six. I thought screen time debates would come much later. I can’t believe I used to worry about how many hours or cartoons he was watching. Those were the simple times!
And even then, I knew I was inadvertently setting him up for an addictive love of the screen. I justified it as exposure to Russian language and culture. I justified it as “well I grew up watching cartoons.” But now I wonder if allowing him too much screen time as a toddler has led to his propensity for wanting to play minecraft for hours or to endlessly watch that ryan kid on youtube.
No, I reassure my panicked mom nerves. I had the cartoon-watching under control. I could’ve navigated that for years as the short allotments of time granted to me for showers and cleaning the house, doing paperwork, making calls, and the myriad etcetera of other often thankless parental tasks. I could’ve milked my pride a little longer in not purchasing a tablet for him, in not conditioning his mind with repeat screenings of the same disney movies over and over... he’s really only seen coco and toy story. I don’t think he’s even ever sat through all of frozen.
But that shallow pride is long gone now. I am aghast at the amount of subway surfers and mario kart he’s played. I am devastated that his sweet emotions have been stretched and stressed by the intense pull of screen addiction followed by the shattering reality of having to turn it off. He hates turning it off, and that’s what worries his dad and me the most.
We don’t want a screen zombie child with a hunchback neck from staring down at a device. We don’t want our Geo’s bubbly rambunctious realness to be blurred by the euphoria of gaming, which then leaves him almost disoriented and sloppy, whiny and tense. I had to see the extreme to understand how crucial it is for an even more strict aspect of parenting to kick into gear, so much sooner than I thought.
I’ve believed in gentle parenting, attachment theory, co-sleeping, extended nursing, and all kinds of parenting choices that encourage a holistic approach to raising a child. I believed in limiting screen time but did not want to completely forbid or avoid it. I knew it would have to be dealt with regardless, but never expected a global crisis to speed it way up.
But here we are. Since last fall I’ve been saying how lucky we are that Geo’s been able to actually attend in-person school, part-time at first (thus the distance learning), and then four days a week. Next month his small school is even transitioning into five days per week. One less day of battling over screen time at home. I’ll take it.
"Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness. And so to whatever degree any one of us, can bring back a small piece of the picture and contribute it to the building of the new paradigm, then we participate in the redemption of the human spirit, and that after all is what it's really all about."
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