‘Go and play.’
‘I don’t want to.’
‘Believe me, you so do.’
Oldest son danced impatiently on the spot while middle son looked on with interest, clearly wondering which parentally challenging tactic his brother was about to employ this time.
‘But Pookie’s playing Angry Birds Star Wars!’ he whined, referring to his baby sister by her nickname.
‘No she isn’t. She just happened to activate the app when I gave her my phone to keep her quiet. Now, go and play!’
‘I don’t want to go and play. I want to watch Pookie playing Angry Birds Star Wars. We want to do that, don’t we,’ he said, instantly getting his younger brother onside.
Middle son nodded sagely.
Then, together, they crowded around their baby sister’s pushchair, and made a point of pretending to enjoy her seven-month-old gaming skills as she drooled over my smartphone and somehow managed to explode a couple of jeering green piggies in the process.
‘That’s enough! There’s earth, there’s sand. There’s a box of Action Men and your toy tanks. Now GO AND PLAY!’ commanded DH.
‘I hate you Daddy! You’re a big dummyhead!’ oldest son ranted, before turning round and stomping out of the kitchen in a huff. Not to be outdone, middle son made a rasping noise at us and followed his brother in mutual disgust.
DH sighed and reached for the kettle as our baby girl dropped my spit-covered phone on the floor and began gnawing her pudgy toes. I could tell from his hang-dog expression that he probably would have preferred something harder than Tetley at that moment – but it was only 7am…
You see, we had decided to place a ban on all ‘screen time’. And the withdrawal symptoms were clearly kicking in. To clarify, ‘screen time’ encompasses all screened devices in our possession, from the television and our laptops and iPads, to both DH and my mobiles.
The boys had got so desperate, that they were willing to get their kicks where they could – even if it meant just watching their baby sister kill my phone with drool.
It all began with oldest son who seems to suffer from chronic, weekend insomnia. I say ‘weekend insomnia’ because it only affects him on Fridays and Saturdays – and not from Sunday to Thursday when he has to get up for school….
But anyway, I digress. Oldest son, had got into the habit of going downstairs at silly o’clock on a Friday morning and switching on the television. At first it was rather nice. After all, we were used to being woken up by him at 5am – so to have a lie-in until seven instead was a luxury.
Until that is, his demands for screen time began to increase exponentially beyond the early morning ritual.
It started with DH’s phone. The bloody thing kept disappearing. Oldest son would spirit it away and spend ages either playing games on it, uploading apps or taking bizarre pictures with the camera and posting them to his dad’s Facebook page. Naturally, the battery would be run flat afterwards, and friends would text in with comments like; ‘mate, why have you photographed the dog’s bum?’
DH started to get cross. And though I was aware of the tensions that were building, I didn’t feel sufficiently bothered by them until my phone also went walkabout. It was returned with a suspiciously flat battery – and lots of new apps with names like ‘Turbo Track Racer’ and ‘Pudding Monster’.
Not wanting it to become a habit. I warned oldest son not to take it again, and kept it hidden in my handbag.
But it was too late. The obsession was established.
From then on, things went downhill fast. The iPads were the worst casualties. DH and I each have one for work purposes. But from that day onwards, they were never where they were supposed to be – and if we did manage to get our hands on them, they’d be completely juiced out.
‘I’ve had enough!’ I yelled one morning not long ago, when, after hours of searching, I finally located my iPad under the sofa cushions with the battery at zilch and the screen covered with jammy finger prints. Yet. Again…
By that time, middle child had got in on the act too. If his older brother was going to spend a sneaky hour playing Temple Run 2, he was jolly well going have a go as well. And those two boys would stop at nothing…
If we confiscated the iPads, they’d sneak the phones. If we confiscated the phones, they’d be on the laptop. If we took away the laptop, they’d vegetate in front of the television – and if we took away the television, it would all begin again…
It was farcical.
So, we banned them all, and made a pact.
Until our children made an effort to take an interest in the real world around them again, there would be NO. MORE. SCREEN. TIME.
All devices were shut out of temptation’s way. I even hung a blanket over the TV (it’s fixed to the wall) so they wouldn’t forget – and oh so accidently switch it on. Or worse still, stare at the blank screen in an injured fashion, as though I’d denied them vital medication.
It was only once we’d taken that step, that we realized we had another challenge on our hands.
‘Mummy, come and play the game with us.’
‘Can it wait until I’ve had breakfast?’
Turns out ‘the game’ was me, setting up their Action Men in the flower bed, giving them a storyline to work with and playing it through for them as they watched with interest from the sidelines.
‘That was great Mummy!’ oldest son clapped enthusiastically. ‘Now, make up another game for us to watch.’
The realization that my kids had become so dependent on technology that they couldn’t even figure out how to amuse themselves was a bit of a shock. So, we knew we’d made the right decision, and struggled on regardless, even though the boys rallied against us with every argument they knew.
‘Omar takes his own Galaxy Tab on the school bus every day. You and mummy are soooo stupid!’
‘Playing is stupid! Reading is stupid! Drawing is stupid! The only thing that isn’t stupid is the iPad!’
This was made harder by the fact that when your child goes to school in Dubai and claims everyone in their class has the latest gadget except them, there’s probably more than a grain of truth in it.
‘Anatoli’s dad took his gold-plated iPad 12 away for a week because he stole some money. Isn’t that awful?’ Was one story we heard about the rather objectionable son of an oligarch in Two Blue.
‘Awful because he stole money, or awful because he lost his iPad?’ I asked oldest son, who pondered for a disturbingly long time over the answer, before finally replying, ‘awful for stealing Mummy,’
PHEW. Thank heavens for that!
Why only this morning, we were regaled with the tales of Sam in Year Five, who takes a tablet to school so he can play on it at break time.
‘Why does he do that?’ I gasped. Doesn’t he have any friends?’
‘Silly! He’s got loads of friends Mummy. They all line up and wait for a go.’
But slowly and surely, the whining stopped and the house became less fraught. The boys suddenly discovered how much fun it was building train tracks, or creating vehicles out of Lego. The large pile of untouched colouring books made an appearance on the dining room table – along with a bucket of crayons from their much neglected art box.
Instead of racing in from school and flopping down in front of the telly, oldest son took to practicing his skateboard skills outside in the garden, or reading through his back issues of The Beano. Meanwhile, middle son discovered a talent for gardening, and created his own little ‘gnome space’ in the yard.
The constant squabbles which had become the background noise of our lives, calmed down considerably and suddenly, we realized everything and everyone was so much happier….
And the moral of the story is? Well there isn’t one. Except I guess, keep your kids away from technology and your lives will be so much nicer. Children can’t help themselves you see. I mean, even when they’re babies they go crazy for it. Have you ever seen a six-month-old refuse the chance to gnaw on a mobile? It’s bizarre! Even the most boring handset is like cat nip to them… Now why is that?
Which reminds me… where’s my Android?