iPads, Currently

We are unschoolers with iPad timers.

This reveal says more about me than a review of my shopping cart, maybe even my underwear drawer. But I’ve taken a lot of time to weigh options. I cannot pretend to be okay with the free reign of iPad time, not with how it’s effected our family life.

Unschooling means trust.
This is actually why I feel failure creep when I discuss and implement the iPad timers. I do not appreciate being the manager of my child’s time. We’re ritual creatures, and I’m happy to provide routine that grounds our day over food, books and play. Currently, however, we are stuck.

See, we’re on a jag of 10+ hour iPad days. For my kids, eight and 10, I explained the amount as a full-time job. Maybe it feels exciting to start a new game or reach new levels, but their bodies thrum with energy by dinner. They won’t take a break to do anything else. Honestly, they can’t think of anything else TO do. The world is shut down and it breaks my heart.

When the yelling began a week ago, I decided this was enough. I battered through a week of screaming, attempting to discuss the issue around anger flares. My 8yo does not self-regulate. No matter how much I trust her to largely know what she likes and needs, myself and others in this household deserve more than a screamed “shut up” because she is constantly overtaxed and tired.

The thing is, I trust myself too. And when I know better, I can change course.

The iPad timers, while basic and regulatory, help me ensure we’re making time for other things in our day. I hope, as always, that adding this parameter is temporary. But how can I expect my kids to yank themselves from their Covid screen depression when none of the adults I know can do it?

Four hours of time that they can use as they wish, whenever they wish, is still a part-time job online. I still feel defeat that they spend so much time watching a box. That is my TV-less childhood baggage. But I rarely spend so much time on my actual work, which is online, and I do get paid. Intentionally, I look away, I connect to people, I care for my body with food and exercise. We practice this care together daily.

Unschooling means seeing the value.
I actually love Minecraft. It’s super challenging. The amount of knowledge my kids have amassed about this game is incredible. And Rosetta, the 8yo, has advanced her reading skills immensely through the Roblox chat.

All of these games involve math, physics, social interactions and lots of negotiation – sometimes between people you’ve never met. But as much as I value these experiences, they’re fostering a disconnect between our family members. If my kids’ lives revolve around online gaming, it’s frustrating for them to interact with each other, and with us, outside of their screens. Name calling is rampant, and anger flares with little warning.

That frustration is sometimes seething lately. And yet, at day’s end, both children pour words over me, waterfalls of one-way communication. We’re eating dinner, slowing down for evening, but the kids jitter with energy. They’re hoping for connection in the few minutes left to create it. We go to bed feeling defeated, ready to hide in iPads another day.

My value-add here is moderation. These games can be sunk deeply into without giving up a whole day’s worth of human needs: connection, adventure, fun. By limiting time to four hours, I hope the kids will learn to pace their time online, to build connection with friends they don’t get to see often now. And then to have time to look up and watch the rest of the world with the same curiosity.

Unschooling means experience.
Normally we chat with myriad people all week long. From the grocery store to parkour classes, playgrounds to homeschool groups, we speak to hundreds of folks each week. All of us. And now… hardly anything. When we do see people, the chatter is heavy, weighted with this weird and scary life.

We are in a holding pattern. Instead of weekly adventures, we’re mainly stuck at home. When we explore, it’s largely on our own. It feels lonely.

We hike and wander forests as weather and energy allows. We meet at empty skate parks during school hours. We cook new dinners with meal delivery kits. We dream of adventure together, where we will go when we can travel again.

Life, real life, is passing us by. Pulling out of our iPads, even just for part of the day, is important. We are missing life. Opportunities, discoveries, adventures. How can we possibly see it, heads buried in screens? Any of us.

It feels like I’m making excuses, still. Trying to cover my screen time lock with logic and an adult argument about life balance that I’m convinced doesn’t exist anyway.

What I know is this: I told my 8yo she had 4 hours on her iPad now, and she just sighed. She didn’t ask for more time. She seemed relieved. Having your grownup set limits, especially when you’re feeling out-of-control, must feel a little like love. – ce

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