Let me start by saying that I have absolutely zero problems with screens. Obviously, from the title of this blog, screens have been a big part of my kids’ lives. So this is in absolutely no way meant to judge parents who use screens in their household. Honestly? Screens have had loads of benefits for my kids! They’ve learned about science, technology, biology and more; things far beyond what they are learning in elementary school! My kids constantly mystify me with things they have learned from educational programs on their tablets. And, until recently, my kids were allowed to self-govern their screen time.
They were always so responsible about it. We didn’t need to set limits on their screen time because they seemed to naturally find balance between the tablets and their toys. But lately … we began noticing a shift.
It’s funny how things can sneak up on you sometimes. Bad habits and behaviors can build slowly — so slow you don’t even notice them happening — until one day you realize that a previously innocent thing has become a problem. My kids were suddenly on their tablets all the time, and getting them to put them down was becoming a fight. And although I will always defend the use of screens, I do think it’s important to recognize that there is a too far when it comes to kids’ use of them.
It was clear we had passed too far some time ago and never noticed.
So, we chose to detox the kids from the screens. I was expecting it to be a major challenge for us but, for the most part, it’s been an enormous gift to our entire family. The transition has been easy, and we are realizing just how needed it was. Here’s how it’s gone so far:
The children are playing better together.
One thing we liked about the tablets was that the kids could play games from the App Store together, which was really cool. Over time, however, we noticed that the kids were acting out the things they saw in the games. Some of the behaviors we saw involved pranks, jump scares, and hitting. It seemed like the kids were always playing rough until someone got hurt. Since the detox, the kids have resumed playing together with their toys. They’ve returned to gentle play, which has brought a lot of peace to the household.
They have become more respectful toward us.
Y’ know, I have a bone to pick with YouTube Kids. They claim that the shows on that app have been vetted, verified as being safe for children. And I supposed they are, to some extent. But one thing we’ve noticed while monitoring their use of YouTube kids is that there are plenty of grown men and women creating gameplay content for children. Although the content is technically kid-friendly, these grown-ups are disrespectful, loud, irreverent, and often obnoxious. My children began mimicking that behavior toward me and my husband. Now that they aren’t having that behavior modeled to them every day, our sweet, respectful children are coming back.
I am having more fun with my children.
Honestly, it shames me to say this, but I think I’d gotten a little too comfortable with the tablets being my kids’ main source of entertainment. The children were so dependent on me playing with them when they were smaller. It felt nice to finally have a way for them to keep themselves busy so that I could get my work and household chores done. Over time, I think I forgot how much fun playing with them actually is. Needless to say, it’s not that I never played with them once they got their tablets, but often our play involved me playing Roblox or Minecraft with them. Now that they don’t have their tablets, we’ve been playing dominoes, checkers, hide and seek, and more. I’ve really enjoyed seeing their bright little faces without the glow of an iPad screen, hearing their laughter come as a result of playing with me instead of playing with a tablet. I’ve missed this.
The kids’ moods have improved significantly.
Have you ever noticed how frustrating the tablet games that are designed for kids can be? They’re filled pop-up ads that interrupt the game at the worst possible moment, hundreds of “in-app purchases” that block them from completing the game, and also tend to be incredibly glitchy. You know how frustrated you get when one of your devices isn’t working properly, right? Imagine that, but as a kid with less developed coping skills and emotional regulation strategies than you. It’s got to be so incredibly overwhelming for them. Since detoxing from the screens, the kids’ moods have significantly improved.
My self-esteem is improving.
I don’t think I realized how badly it was weighing me down that the kids were using their tablets as much as they were. The thing is, I think my subconscious knew the tablets had gotten out of control my before I was consciously aware of it. I’m realizing that I was carrying quite a bit of guilt about using the tablets to buy myself more time to get my own things done. I was so hungry for freedom, for time to find myself again after years of raising very little kids, that I let the tablet become a crutch. Since detoxing the kids from the screens, I’m playing with them more. I’m less frustrated with them for all the reasons outlined above. We are all getting along better, and I feel like I’m being the kind of mom I want to be again. I didn’t know how badly my self-esteem needed that.
Ultimately, the detox has probably been one of the best decisions we’ve made for our kids. After this “hard reset” where we’ve removed the tablets completely, we will start reintroducing them back to the kids, but this time with intention. There will be schedules, there will be restrictions. We will be removing even YouTube kids, as I sincerely believe that app is not as kid friendly as we like to think.
There will be balance. And that is something I am truly ready to embrace.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.