I Can Turn My Kids Into Silent Zombies Whenever I Want (and It's Scary)

The other day my husband and I were reminiscing about our baby-raising years, when entire days would revolve around naps. How we'd tiptoe around the house when someone was sleeping, putting off noisy activities like emptying the dishwasher or speaking above a hushed whisper, because god forbid if that two-hour nap was interrupted and we got screwed with a measly 45 minutes.

We would have done anything to ensure we got the full, allotted naptime. That time was so unbelievably precious, I can still remember the whole-bodied relief of it. The blissful silence. The sense of somehow reconnecting with your own self while temporarily drawn away from the fierce parental undertow: Oh, you're still here. Good.

Our kids are well past the napping stage now, and thankfully, they're not nearly so demanding. But I've learned we can easily recreate that napping atmosphere -- and oh god, it's so hard not to abuse this power.

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I'm talking about electronics. Gadgets. Screen time, which is an annoyingly modern term I dislike with the same inexplicable Ugh shut up shut UP feeling I have for phrases like raw food movement or [City name]: I AM IN YOU! In this case, I'm specifically talking about iPhones, as in the old phones my husband and I had upgraded from years ago and kept in a drawer before one day impulsively deciding to let the kids play with them.

So now my children, who are 8 and 6, are those douchey over-privileged kids with iPhones. Well, sort of. The phones only connect to our home Internet network, and they certainly don't take them to school or keep them in their rooms or anything. Phone time is a treat that my husband and I dole out as we see fit.

The problem is that it's so tempting to dole it out. Because when my kids are face-down in those phones, they are SILENT. Silent and unmoving! Their normal state of full-tilt cacophony is muffled as efficiently as if I'd shot an elephant tranquilizer into their butts. They sit perfectly still with headphones placed over their ears and they either surf through images of Pacific Rim robots (my youngest) or watch those mystifyingly popular YouTube videos where someone narrates their own Minecraft game (my oldest).

It's quiet. It's peaceful. It's like naptime used to be, only more predictable, less tenuous (no need to whisper!), and we can make it happen whenever we want. Slippery slope, much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends restricting total screen time to 2 hours per day for kids 6-18, but some feel this isn't enough. Here's a pediatric occupational therapist who thinks all handheld devices should be banned for children under the age of 12, citing impaired brain growth, delayed development, epidemic obesity, sleep deprivation, mental illness, radiation emissions, and more. (Of course, here's a well-researched rebuttal to those claims.)

My kids don't play on their phones for more than 2 hours a day, and they're really good about using the kitchen timer as we require. Still, I have to admit that whenever I look at them, fully immersed in their silent world, I feel conflicted. Their briefly stilled energy is a relief, and yet I wonder what I'm trading for this respite. And of course I realize my own hypocrisy, as I dive into my own phone to post photos or check emails.

I don't have a tidy conclusion to these thoughts. No inspirational story of improvement, no Pinterest-worthy soft-focus journey through our new electronics-free lifestyle, no lecture on the evils of technology that's ironically meant to be shared via the same methods it decries (ahem). I'm just wondering what you think about kids and screen time, how you manage it in your own household, and whether you also feel torn on allowing it at all.


Image via Linda Sharps

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