I was surprised and proud when our littlest sons were students of the month last January.
In December, I’d finished writing a novel, and all I wanted to do was spend time with my kids and be a mom for awhile instead of working. In the afternoon, when the boys got home from school, we played together. At night after dinner, we practiced reading and did homework. The extra attention especially helped our youngest son, a kindergartener, do better in school.
By mid-February, I was falling back into a new novel, and life was getting busy again, but we still worked on the boys’ school work in the afternoons or evenings and none of the boys were allowed much screen time.
We fight the screens at our house. And are constantly telling our sons to go play outside. “Grab a stick. Dig in the dirt. Be a boy,” we encourage them. But it was a very rainy winter so our sons were inside a lot. In March, our daughter got engaged, chose a wedding date only a few months away, and other things distracted me from my sons. Plus I had a deadline with my editor so I was writing a lot and getting lax in letting the boys hangout on their screens.
Playing games. Watching videos. Our youngest, Cruz, was on a Pokeman roll. The boys were quiet in the house, but not a good kind of quiet. More like drones on the couch quiet. I also noticed they weren’t as nice to each other when sceening it up. They got bent out of shape if their screen time was interrupted, even for dinner, and my boys love to eat.
If I took a screen away, it was like yanking an IV out of a druggie’s arm. Cruz especially would howl like he was in genuine pain. “Because you’re throwing a fit, you definitely aren’t getting your screen back. You need some serious rehab, kid,” I joked, but wasn’t really laughing as I put my iPhone away or hid his iPad.
About this time, Cruz’s teacher told me he wasn’t doing as well in school as he’d been doing. I met with his speech therapist and she said the same thing. They’d bumped up Cruz’s speech sessions and his teacher had to help him more in class. At home, when I did work with Cruz on his homework or flashcards, he couldn’t keep his words straight, and all he wanted was to get back to his Pokeman videos or crazy, blinking games or whatever he’d become addicted to on his screen.
“You know, I really think the screen is stealing what he’s already learned,” I shared with his teacher. “I’m going to work harder to keep him off my iPhone and his iPad and see if this helps.”
I also began to note the kind of boy Cruz was without screen time and the kind of boy he was with it. The boy without the screen was amazing. The boy with the screen was kind of a brat. But what surprised me most was Cruz seemed much smarter with his flashcards when he’d been without his screen for a few days. After a couple hours on his screen, he couldn’t remember his flashcard words.
I kind of just forgot about all this in the midst of producing another book and planning our daughter’s wedding in June. But Scott and I made a pact to reduce all the boys’ screen time as much as possible, and once our harvest started, the boys had to work, so it’s even less screen time for our kids. But not for Cruz. At six years old, he’s too small to work in the orchard. He loves to ride on the fruit cart, and sometimes I have him count peaches or nectarines for me when we’re doing deliveries, but I’ve found myself giving him my iPhone to keep him occupied while I’m working.
I’m starting to think I may as well be giving my kid drugs with that screen.
This was confirmed today at the doctor’s office. I took our nine year old in for a check up and the doctor said, “How are your kids doing with screen time?”
“It’s an absolute battle,” I admitted, “But I’m determined to fight it now because I think screens make my boys stupid.”
The doctor didn’t laugh like I thought he might. Instead he said, “Hold on a minute.” He walked out of the exam room and returned with a paper and a very stern look on his face. “You can read this when you leave here. Screens are becoming a serious problem for kids.”
The headline of the paper he handed me read, “It’s digital herion’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies.”
The handout went on to say, “Recent brain imaging research is showing that iPads, smartphones and Xboxes affect the brain’s frontal cortex, which controls executive functioning, including impulse control in exactly the same way cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels, the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addictive dynamic, much like sex.”
Furthermore, “this addictive effect is why Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of neuroscience at UCLA, calls screens “electronic cocaine” and Chinese researchers call them “digital heroin”
No wonder my boys freak out when I snatch their screens away.
Even the head of addiction research for the Penatagon and the US Navy, Dr. Andew Doan, who has been researching video games and screen technologies, calls it “digital pharmakeia” which is Greek for drug.
So basically our kids are doing drugs on their screens and becoming addicts according to these experts.
Fifteen years ago, we got rid of television, and for about a year I joked that I was coming off of cocaine. The cooking channel and the news were the hardest to give up. We kept our TV, but you could only watch movies on it now. No more regular shows. No more mindless hours in front of the boob tube. After we’d all settled in with this new life, it was wonderful, until video games and iPhones arrived at our house.
We had pretty strict rules about when and what kind of video games our kids played, and you had to be in high school to get an iPhone. But you know, as parents, you just get worn down. A number of years later, one Christmas, all our boys got iPads. It seemed great at the time, but honestly, screens have turned into a parenting nightmare for me.
As a mom, not only do I police my kids’ screens, I’ve made rules for myself too. No taking my iPhone to bed. No picking up my phone first thing in the morning. The phone gets turned off on the counter a lot because it’s like a yapping chihuahua that drives me crazy. I hear it buzz and can hardly resist. I’d gotten pretty good at taking phone breaks where I’d completely go without, and then our oldest son left for boot camp in May and I missed his first phone call home. Now I’m afraid to live without my phone.
And every day Cruz and I battle over him using my iPhone.
Do you have this war in your home too?
The rise of the screens has made it harder to parent all the way around. I’ve declared war on the screens, but don’t feel like I’m winning as much as I should be. It’s so easy to think screens are pretty harmless. But they’re not. Perhaps moderation is the answer. Personally, I’d like a time machine with a hammer, but I’m a tired mommy just trying to win the battle of the screens.