By Jeremy Reed, Whistling While We Work
CHICAGO (CBS) — Like many dads, I enjoy my iPhone, iPad and everything else Apple shells out for their hungry fans. I play games. I post on Facebook. I constantly look up information on Google and IMDB. Recently my wife confronted me with her unhappiness over my technology use. My caveman-like brain began to churn. Is too much screen time hurting my family?
This came on the heels of another observation of hers: she thinks our kids spend too much time on screens. I initially brushed off her concern. Technology opens their worlds. Plus, it entertains the little animals while my wife and I try to have a nice dinner.
My son, now eight, immediately took to the touchable world of the iPad. He had a seemingly infinite amount of interactive games to choose from, with prizes he could see and touch. But I discovered there is also a dark side. What started as fun for my son turned into a mess of anxiety, stress and countless temper tantrums.
It came to a loud climax during a neighborhood block party. Normally I expect the news of a Tommy Hawk appearance to cause a stir of excitement. But my son barely looked up from one of his countless daily “tasks.” I say “tasks” because he had formed a mental checklist for game activity, which included:
Watch a handful of YouTubers’ shows about games. Play the games. Then play other games. Then go back to Youtube for mindless videos of the great unwashed doing idiotic things for fame.
With Tommy waiting, I had to physically remove the iPad from my son’s little hands and run him out of the house. This did not go over well. After a few minutes of his pouting and foul mood, I slipped into my best and unintentional Mr. Vernon impression, whereas I told him I was taking away the iPad.
Needless to say, it did not create the outcome I was shooting for. He sprinted home. I found him under his covers, hiding. Not because he feared a man dressed as a bird, but because he was afraid of being cut off from his video games.
As a parent, I know I’m not perfect. I know we’re all just trying to do our best, but it broke my heart to see my young son so preoccupied with technology that he couldn’t enjoy life around him. This is when we decided. Or, I should say, this is when I finally agreed to get on board with an iPad intervention.
We broke the news to my boy that we were banning the iPad for two days. He didn’t believe we would stick to it. He yelled at me as if I had sold all of his belongings and replaced them with rocks.
Like a stereotypical drug addict in the throes of withdrawal, my son offered me anything I wanted if I would give him five minutes with an iPad. Cleaning the house, cleaning my room, and on and on. I held my ground, despite comments like this:
“You’re the worst daddy in the world.”
“Why do you hate me?”
“You have taken everything fun out of this world.”
“If you don’t let me check on my Dragons (some game), they will die.”
On day two, my son woke me up to inform me that I have ruined his life and then slammed the door. He was wearing all black. He wore all black, my daughter informed me, to show me that I had taken the color and fun out of the world.
I am in complete shock at how powerful this addiction is.
I said it. It’s an addiction, an honest-to-god addiction that had its grips on my son. It’s not heroin. It’s not cocaine or booze. It’s an iPad, and we were in the thick of cold turkey withdrawals. It was not fun. But it had to be done. I wanted my kid back.
Through sharing my family’s experience on Facebook, I learned that we are not alone. Other families are struggling with how to incorporate technology into their lives without it becoming an addiction.
We have magical technology available today. We can interact with data, information and games like never before. I get why it’s easy to fall victim. But I also know that when the rush of a game rules your world, you might as well be trying to score your next high on a street corner.
Now that a few weeks have passed, I am happy to report that I’ve got my son back. Most of his crippling anxiety and anger has melted away. We’ve held tough on keeping the iPad out of his hot little hands during the week.
The first few weekends were hit and miss. He shunned friends and playing outside because he only had a few “hours” to play on his beloved tablet. However, as the weeks tick by, we see steady progress. Heck, some nights he says, “I didn’t even play on the iPad today!”
He hangs out with us again! He sits at the table without rushing away to get the next fix. I admit, I enabled this addiction for too long. I did not want to believe it was a problem. I am now here to say that I was wrong. This addiction is real.
Being a parent is not easy. But it’s our responsibility to be the adults and protect our kids from even the most enjoyable of addictions.