I just read this article in the NYT from a concerned parent worried about her 6 year old's addiction to ipad. As parents in this high tech world, honestly, I feel combating distractions and playing the authority figure who decides how much is too much when it comes to screen time of sorts is getting to be a little challenging. And this when my kids are just 5.5 and 3.5 years old. I have not felt the challenge yet. But I know it has started.
When KB was 3 years old, my friend used to often ask me how I managed to never turn the TV on for him. I never found it difficult because somehow he didn't ask for it, I had not exposed him to it much and I knew that when he is five or so and he gets into it, he will anyway get plenty of it. If I had to cook, I would for example set out two little jars of water and some smaller cups and spoons and he would pour/transfer/spill etc but it would keep him occupied for a long time. He was a calmer child then. He turned four, became this hyper energetic child, moved to a different preschool where his closest buddy was a star wars fan and would bring his toy light saber. KB got into it. At that time I had also introduced him to a couple of PBS TV shows - Dinosaur train and Sid the science kid - because KB was crazy about dinosaurs (still is to some extent) and he loved Sid the science kid which came on just before Dinosaur train. We only have basic cable in our house so the kids anyway didn't have nick jr or Disney channel etc to watch. Aside from these shows KB got into Star wars and Scooby doo. Being the obsessive kid that he is, he totally got into "Star wars". I didn't think too much about letting him watch it since he read Star wars books and his close friend also watched it without getting affected by it. My niece gifted him this big Star wars dictionary or encylopedia, I can't remember - but KB would make us read all that useless information to him but would just sound like a star wars groupie remembering all kinds of details of Sith lords and who has what kind of light saber and what not. But some good came of it. He learned a lot of new words. And Yoda became a good role model for him. He still considers himself like Yoda when it comes to mind control. That controlling one's mind can be a very powerful tool. When he got frustrated say while trying to do a little math problem or a puzzle - he is that way - too hard on himself - tearing up if he can't do it on his own without help - he would try and control his tears saying he is like Yoda. When he felt anxious about new situations, I would remind him how he is like Yoda and he can control his fears. And many a time he did work on himself as if he was Yoda. And then suddenly one day he outgrew the star wars madness. Moved on to Scooby doo. My sister, the indulgent aunt that she is, immediately mailed him a scooby-doo DVD set. From then on, he was crazy about Scooby-doo. He got a mystery machine along with the characters as a gift. He played with it every morning after his shower even on school days. Just a quick hello and time with the characters. He got a whole bunch of books and it motivated him to read on his own as well since he enjoyed those books. He moved on from that phase to the Super hero phase - dressed up as Iron man for Halloween and would draw those characters etc etc. And then moved on from that phase to Ben 10 addiction. He is totally into it now and as soon as he gets back from school he "slaps on" (as he puts it) his "Omnitrix" and wears it until he goes to bed. He transforms into different aliens for different situations. He turns into grey matter when he does his math work or XLR8 when he needs to play outside. He made an "An I can read book" "Ben 10 guide" on his own - drawing about 17 characters and writing about each of them one the other side of the page. He was so proud his first book that he created of his own free will. He is still in the Ben 10 phase - frankly I am getting so tired of it - am waiting for him to outgrow this phase. All this happens on the side apart from his school work etc - without my ever having to tell him - he will never ask to take his Omnitrix to school. He constantly asks me about words he learned from Ben 10 - armor, enhanced, admire, priority, astounding, demise - and he points it out to me when I refer to Ben 10 as "Ottandi Ben 10" (useless Ben 10) - Mamma, I do learn things from Ben 10 too! :)
KG who is all of 3.5 now and started preschool only in September has watched all the shows that KB has watched and has listened to me read all kinds of books that I read to KB - Magic tree house series, Flat Stanley series, Magic school bus, and of course all the star wars and scooby books along with all the other non fiction books he reads. And now if I tell her I am going to eat her up because she is so delicious, she says, Mamma, I am going to become Humongosaur (a Ben 10 alien form) and defeat you! Which ever phase KB is in, she is in. And goes with the flow. Her preschool teacher is this awesome teacher who is a complete natural with kids. She is also a very wealthy woman whose children are all grown up and is generally in a very happy place in life now. She is also a huge fan of the ipad. She has bought several apps for her class kids to use. KG's teacher emailed me a few weeks back with photos of her playing with the i-pad and said "She is just amazing with it". She does this snake puzzle by setting it at the highest difficulty level and memory match games etc with great ease. As I walked in one day to pick her up from school, her teacher Ms.G said to me "Just watch. She is totally in charge here. She lets each kid finish their turn, takes the i-pad back from them, goes back to the main page, picks the game, sets the difficulty level for that child and gives each one their turn". And that is exactly what she was doing. One of the kids got stuck because he pressed the wrong button and he called out to his teacher to help him. KG just took the i-pad gently from him and pressed a few buttons and went back to the main page and brought it back to where he was before his teacher could even get to it. Ms.G turned to me and said, "See, I told you, she is totally in charge here. She is just amazing with it". May be it is being the second child or it is her nature. But I don't know if KB would have done all that with that much ease. He is more careful with it - he would not pull a puzzle piece into a slot that fast - he would pause to make sure it was the right piece. Even when he plays chess he thinks so much before making his move. Their inherent nature plays out even in such small things.
Back to my main point. How much of all this is too much? KB is now getting into nickjr.com games. KG is getting addicted to morestarfall.com. And when we buy the i-pad this year, am sure there will more of that to deal with - both in good and bad ways. Moderation is key. But even deciding what is moderation is hard when you know they are learning something, enjoying themselves too. And at least so far when the weather is good and we have time we are always at the park. I make sure they meet with their friends and play rather than sit and watch videos. But one fall out from all this is the time to play board games. Between doing school work, piano practice, chess every now and then, and now these computer games and reading books to them, it is so hard to find time to play board games. When KB was 3 plus we used to play board games almost every night. I do feel bad about that. It is not an easy thing I feel - allocating time for the million things. While the noise drives me crazy at times, I am still most happy when I see KB and KG playing their pretend games for a long time jumping on our bed and hiding under blankets and what not. No amount of puzzle solving or learning games on the computer matches the joy I feel when I see them do that. I had my first computer when I was in graduate school. From that to seeing these kids playing with i-pads at age three, it is taking some adjustment in deciding what's OK and what's not. Hopefully the kids will turn out OK! What do you think?