Raising kids is a rollercoaster of priorities, and demands, and self-doubt.
We spend about five percent of our time feeling confident that we’ve got this shit sorted, and the remaining ninety five percent absolutely convinced that we are actually destroying these kids irreparably, for life.
There’s been so many occasions in my parenting career thus far where I’ve literally caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, up to my elbows in God-knows-what, surrounded by screeching life-forms that at one point emerged from my very own body, and I find myself wondering where the actual adult is.
You know, the one who is equipped to make the decisions required to keep everybody alive, or something close to it.
If you were to ask me right now what I would consider to be the biggest challenge in raising my mini humans at this point in time, I would answer without a single moment’s hesitation.
Give me poo-ey nappies and toddler tantrums any day.
Raising tweens in a landscape of relentless screens, devices and gaming consoles is actually complete and utter balls.
They see those screens, their pupils dilate, and just like that, they are lost to me; absorbed into a world of obnoxiously loud, shrieking teenagers performing ridiculous stunts to the snorting laughter of their drooling friends, or shoot-em up games where they spend their time roaring through headsets that evidently completely obliterate their ability to hear themselves and the volume, at which they are communicating.
I’d gladly get rid of it all, like FOREVER, and I’ve bloody tried to, multiple times.
But just like a wart that you think you’ve killed with dry ice, technology keeps on coming back.
Hot Husband says I shouldn’t keep stomping, shrieking and removing everything at the power-points (as I’m inclined to do when I’m at the end of my tether and about to start hulk-style raging).
He says all-or-nothing approaches won’t work.
He says “Rysie, put down the hammer”.
And then he says that responsible technology usage is all about moderation, and that, as parents, we should be encouraging a healthy balance.
This guy works in I.T. so he should know what he’s talking about. And he sounds so wise, and calm (or at least, calmer than me, wielding the hammer) that I give him the benefit of the doubt.
And so the cycle begins, where we try and give the juniors a little bit of freedom to make the right choices, and practice some self-restraint. Until we find ourselves in the midst of a 6 hour gaming or YouTube binge session, 48 temper meltdowns, and the acute development of severe selective childhood deafness.
He wonders why I rage.
If you had any idea how many times, and in how many different ways we have attempted to navigate this arena, without success, I suspect you’d join me, hiding in the attic with wine. And honestly, I’ve been starting to despair that this whole bloody technology debacle was just something that was part and parcel of raising Digital Natives, as we are.
Last week, as I sat contemplating whether it would be unreasonable to set fire to the PS4 controllers, Hot Husband called us all to the table.
He had a plan, he said.
It’s a technology contract, he said.
It’ll work, he said.
It includes TOKENS, he said.
Our interest was piqued.
He laid it all out for us to consider:
Every Monday, each child would be given 14 tokens, with each token being worth 30 minutes of screen time.
Each child could choose to redeem these tokens for screen time for an amount of time that they nominated, up to a maximum of four hours at a time.
The total time had to be selected prior to commencing the screen time, and screen time could not commence until the tokens had been surrendered with permission to us.
Tokens could not be redeemed if there had been shitty behaviour in general in the time preceding proposed usage.
If a child was to go over their allocated time, even by a minute, a further token would be deducted from their account as punishment. It would be their own responsibility to set the timer on their device and to make sure they were off it by the allocated time.
If they were found to be sneaking screen usage WITHOUT a token, they would have token privileges revoked for the following 24 hours, and 2 tokens would be deducted from their account.
Once the 14 tokens were used, there would be no more tokens for the week.
If none of the 14 tokens were used during the week at all, then a further 2 tokens would be added to their token account.
These rules would not apply when they were out at a friend’s house, or visiting someone, and the television usage was A-OK, provided that we were watching something together.
To my surprise, the kids loved this plan, and made their own request – that Hot Husband and I stay off our phones, unless to answer a phone call, until after they were in bed, or out of the house. We agreed.
After discussing this all at length, we all sat down together, printed up some tokens, and typed up these technology rules into a family contract, which we all signed, and stuck on the fridge, right in plain view.
It took a day before the drama began, and the Boy Child was screaming about the unjustness of it all, when he found himself at the end of his self-allocated time.
It took two days before he told us his friends thought we were terribly strict, and that we were the harshest parents, because he had to leave a game for dinner.
It took three days before he attempted to sneak away with his iPad, and found himself with 24 hours, token free, while his sister (who actually completely loves the structure of a set up like this) happily enjoyed her token time.
And by the fourth day, the dust had settled, and the withdrawal seemed to be over. Although we had to re-visit the rules, multiple times during those four days, pointing out the four gigantic signatures staring back at us from the bottom of the page, there was no denying what the expectations were. For them, and for us.
It’s now been over a week, and, well, the tokens seem to be WORKING.
I’m genuinely scared to say it, lest I jinx it completely.
They’re sticking to their time slots.
Our heads are out of our phones until they’re well and truly in bed (which has actually been really challenging, and a bloody good lesson in practicing what we preach).
There’s less roaring, more listening, and I haven’t felt even remotely compelled to set fire to anything.
Keep your fingers crossed, folks, because if this is the magic bullet in eliminating the angst associated with device usage in this house, then I’m coming out of the attic, retiring the hammer, and preparing to enjoy the teenage years ahead.
And if it all goes to shit, well, we go back to the drawing board (again).