Television and video games seem to have been my arch enemies in parenting thus far, and being amoral things, it has really bothered me that they’ve stolen so much of my attention. Consequently, since they are really the only thing we limit in our children’s lives, they’ve become the focus of many battles. They boys especially seem to have zeroed in on that part of their lives, and the other exciting, amazing things about our world have faded into the background, as this one “can’t-have” has taken precedence. Again: amoral things. Not good or bad. So why, then, is my gut reaction to the question of, “Can I play/watch something?” disappointment, frustration, anger even? I wouldn’t react the same if the request was for books, the park, or a snack, would I?
In an effort to resolve some of these issues, we are doing something drastic and radical: unlimited screen time. (YIKES!) This means that rather than setting times or making rules, we are having an ongoing discussion about Wii, computer, iPad, TV, and DVDs. We are letting the kids, even our two-year-old, decide when they want to play/watch and for how long, and we are talking, drawing them out, and making suggestions along the way. (It’s hard work and very different than using “screens” to get a break from mothering.) This is in hopes that the always-available nature of unlimited screens will bring it down from its pedestal in their minds, to sit level with all the other fun, amazing, interesting, and amoral things about life and our world, while opening up for discussion the moral topics that come up (relationships, sharing, selfishness, etc).
We’ve been at it for two weeks, and honestly, they are drinking from the deep well of electronics as if they’ve been dying of thirst. They are bingeing, big-time, and I am regularly fighting panic and a desire to pull the plug, literally. Toys are left unused, new library books, untouched. It’s extremely disturbing for me, as I’ve gravitated toward a Waldorf, Montessori, “natural,” wooden-toy, homemade, handmade, books books books kind of childhood. The first few days, when the kids woke up and went straight for a device, I was like, “Whatever, its a new thing! They’ll get over it.” Well, its been two weeks now, and my sentiments are changing. When they wake and open the iPad first thing, I feel angry — a deep, abiding anger that makes me want to snatch that thing out of their hands and make some damn limits — BIG limits. So I have been thinking about this anger, wanting to get to the bottom of it. What I’m discovering has been shocking, really, and it has less to do with electronics, and more to do with control.
These are some of the things I’ve uncovered in my heart in the area of “screens”:
-I want my children to make the choices I would make in life.
-I want them to be MY version of them, and they are THEMSELVES.
-I think more of what I want them to do, than how to help them do what they would like.
-I think they make bad choices.
-I give arbitrary values to books, toys, and games, based on whether or not they are “educational,” while learning is to be had from all the things in life.
-I also give approval or disapproval to my children, based on whether or not they enjoy or choose the books, toys, and games that I have decided are more valuable than others.
-I look down on them and judge them for liking and enjoying something that I have little value for.
-I coerce and cajole them into valuing what I value.
-I shame them for enjoying something I don’t enjoy, through words, facial expressions, and arguments.
-I do not meet them where they are, but instead demand that they grow up, this very instant, and make wise, Christ-centered choices NOW — and if they don’t, then I’m going to MAKE them, with RULES and LIMITS.
This is not at all what I imagined would come up as we considered removing limits in this area. Right now, my children are young, and they can survive the above thought-patterns by changing to get my approval and hiding what it is they really like, or who they really are. Eventually, though, they will stop wanting to do that, and they will feel angry at having been made to do that at all. The above statements are the stuff of rebellion, disconnect, and wounding — basically, the opposite of my hopes for my family.
This has not been an enjoyable foray into the inner-workings of my soul. It has been ugly and sad, and I’ve been disheartened by the judgments I’ve lorded over such small children, even if in my own mind. Of course they find great joy in being able to jump as high as they want in a game, and accomplish things their still-growing bodies can’t yet do! They will not make the best choices in this area, or any other, but that’s why life is long and God is patient. I, however, need to grow in my patience and my letting go.
The kids are experiencing real-life limits, like leaving the house, a dead battery, meal and bathroom breaks, or siblings that necessitate sharing. Jones and I had a great talk the other day, when he hurt my feelings by constantly putting me off while playing a game — we talked about saying what we mean, looking people in the eye, how people can feel unimportant and devalued if we ignore them, and how relationships need fostering and care. If I was in my limits mindset, I would’ve just punished him for “breaking rules” or not doing “the right thing,” and he would’ve felt offended and angry. As it was, he felt really sad and gave a genuine apology (as opposed to the conditioned, drawn-out, punished-for kind) because he understood how his behavior had affected the feelings of another person. Screens were not the issue, but I have wrongly blamed them for some of our relational problems in the past, thinking that if they were just blotted out of life, things would be a whole lot easier. Lets just live in the pioneer era, where life was simpler, because it was easier to hide our sin then (or so we think). In reality, this issue brought our family grime right up to the surface — and we all know, that is never pretty to look at. We’d rather shut down whatever is causing all this nastiness to stir up, than actually work on cleaning it and getting rid of it.
Despite my continual fears that this will backfire, we are moving forward with unlimited screen time. I have learned that I started it because I thought it would give me what I wanted, i.e. kids who are less focused on screens. Instead, this has revealed a lot about ME, which has made me angry. I am going to deal with this anger, as well as my fears that they will never put down the controls, in hopes that they can discover more about themselves. And maybe they will choose screens less often, and maybe they won’t — but either way, we can dialogue about it, and I can practice letting go.